Why Skipping New Year’s Resolutions is a Great Decision

…And no, the answer is not “so I can keep making bad decisions all year.”

First of all, I love everything about resolutions.  Resolving to do something means you have made a decision to challenge yourself.  Being resolute means you believe in something strongly.  If you have resolved a problem, you have accomplished something.  All of these are wonderful, positive things.  

So why do we only do it once a year?  It’s not that I am opposed to deciding to change your life on the first of January each year.  I’m opposed to not trying to change your life for the better on every day of each year.  The implication of New Year’s resolutions is that you only make them once each year – and that will make for a very static 365.25 days.  

New Year’s is a pretty arbitrary time to make a resolution – there’s no change in season, nothing exciting really happens for any time in the foreseeable future, and most cultures celebrate a New Year on day just as random as ours.  Any psychologist, life coach, businessperson, or generally successful human will tell you that in order to successfully impact a change on your life, you need an incentive.  Unless you really like the number 14, changing your calendar is a pretty poor one.  Also, a year is a really long time to enact most resolutions – really, you’re setting yourself up to procrastinate.  And lastly, making New Year’s resolutions is such a traditional thing to do that most people don’t even put any thought into it, much less a plan (another thing you need in order to succeed at just about anything, by the way).  

I’m not saying New Year’s Eve isn’t a great time for some reflection – but any time is a great time for reflection, and ideally it would happen more than once each year.  Like everyone else, I lead a busy life and often I need something to remind me to stop for a minute and think of how far I’ve come – and how far I still have to go.  Usually that happens when someone asks me for my “professional opinion” (or I find myself on a plane towards New Jersey), but if looking at the calendar and noticing it’s the 31st December is your motivation then that’s great too.  

Similarly, you should make resolutions any time you feel your life needs a change. I make resolutions on a daily basis, and I tend to be pretty successful with them.  My most successful resolution was made a few years ago.  On 8 February 2009 I decided I was going to go to the gym every day – and I kid you not, unless it was closed or I was off travelling the far corners of the world, I have been to the gym every single day since then (even a gaping wound in my ankle didn’t stop me from a gentle yoga practice).  Sure, the date is just as arbitrary as 1 January, but something that day got me to make that decision and stick with it.  That is a resolution that happened to stay  –  but not all resolutions should.  

As I mentioned before, sticking with one idea for 365 days would make for a static year.  Making a decision with the intent of keeping it for a full year is setting yourself up for failure not only because a year is a long time, but because if your life changes and your resolution is no longer relevant, you will see it as a failure.  I became a vegan about a year ago because I thought it would make my singing voice clearer – sort of important for someone studying to be a professional vocalist.  It was great, and it worked while I was living alone and always cooking for myself.  But now that my situation is different, it’s no longer conducive to my lifestyle.  Had I said “I am never going to eat anything with milk ever again,” I would be feeling pretty down on myself. New Year’s resolutions simply do not allow for the flexibility we need in our lives.

On that note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful, prosperous year and beyond.  I hope you skip the guilt-ridden New Year’s resolutions and instead choose to spend some time reflecting on everything you have and have yet to accomplish 🙂

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Mementos

I have a very strong aversion to clutter.  I frequently assess everything I own and chuck large portions of it into a charity bin.  Why I do this I couldn’t tell you; I admit that it is indeed a bizarre habit especially in an American culture where things define who you are and having more always seems to be better.  If I had to guess, I would say this proclivity is rooted in the notion that I like to be ready to flee the country or make a major life change at any given moment, and having to choose which things to bring would slow me down immensely.  I mean seriously, I have my passport with me at all times and if you say “let’s go to Ecuador right now” I would not hesitate to get on the next plane out of Newark- I’ve done it before and I wouldn’t think twice before doing it again.

But I digress.

Today, I was enlisted by my mum to assist with de-cluttering on a massive scale in our attic.  She had attempted this before but could never decide what to get rid of- however after about an hour I had torn through half the place leaving about a dozen big black rubbish bags in my wake.  Clearly, it is not difficult for me to throw away things that “have memories.”

Think about that.  “Things that have memories.”  Isn’t that a strange concept?  Of course things don’t have memories.  People have memories, but because our minds are so full of other mundane nonsense, we forget them.  To try to avoid forgetting our experiences, we trap them inside things. A ticket stub from a concert reminds us of great music; a dried corsage brings memories of prom weekend.

Three thoughts on this: First, if something was that memorable, how could you possibly forget it?  Perhaps it wouldn’t be in the front of your mind often, but the memory of an amazing experience should be burned into your mind.  Second, how often do you dig through your stuff to go through mementos and reminisce, and lastly does it make you happy?  Obviously I speak only for myself, but when I used to go through boxes of old stuff, it usually made me sad to think of times gone by rather than happy to think of good things that happened.  After I realised this, I went through my then-sizable collection of random stuff that evoked memories and instantly weeded out any that didn’t make me remember something positively delightful.  All I was left with were some old student IDs that showed the amusing progression of the enormous amount of hair I’ve cultivated on my head, a dog chain that I used to wear all throughout high school, and one of my dad’s old shirts.  I kept them because it seemed right, but I can honestly say that even these items I don’t think I would miss.

It may seem foolish to try to forget anything negative that happened, but we’re not really defined by them, are we?  We’re defined by how things that transpired resulted in our developing as humans.  We can’t control what happens, but we control how we process it- and going back to dwell on and re-process events will rarely change anything.  I find that happy memories stick with me regardless of whether or not I have physical evidence of them.  And even better, they get evoked unexpectedly by random events- it’s more common for me to hear a song that reminds me of a really fun night I had or to smell something that reminds me of a special person than for me to go digging through a box yearning for memories of days gone by.

To me, the ideal human condition involves total lack of attachment to physical things and the ability to navigate the world without any baggage.  Our concrete past doesn’t have nearly as much bearing on who we are as people as what we learned from it does.  Memories are nice, but they’re little more than an animal instinct- simply put, even a dog can remember being fed and associate its food bowl with mealtime.  Our true advantage as humans is our ability to remember that we liked Indian food last time we tried it, and to find a new restaurant with similar cuisine; to process the past in a way that allows us to gain a greater understanding of the world we live in- why waste time re-learning things you’ve already done through a box of old junk?

Marketing is Improving the Human Race

Wow, amazing how six weeks can fly by and still feel like an eternity- for better or for worse.  You’ve probably noticed I’ve been rather neglectful of this project; a main part of my job now is blogging every day so by the time I get home I’m a bit tired of staring at a computer putting thoughts together.  If you’re a marketing/technology/new media type, you may find my company’s blog interesting; if you’re not, I apologise for the shameless plug 😉

Anyway, I was thinking about my job recently, as one is prone to do when spending 40+ hours a week in any given place, and I was trying to reason with myself about working in marketing.  As someone who routinely goes through phases of moderate asceticism and hates mindless consumption, trying to convince people that they need to go out and buy things isn’t really aligned with my values.  But then I realised that marketing really isn’t about that anymore-yes, I know this sounds like denial- but bear with me.

There was a time when marketing and advertising was about reaching everyone and trying to attract the masses to your product and brand a la Mad Men.  But that’s simply not the state of the world anymore- now, consumers and people in general want to be understood.  We’re not loyal to brands the way our parents and grandparents were; we don’t necessarily buy things because everyone else has them or they’re the most expensive or we see a compelling advertisement on television.  We consume to express who we are.  We want to be courted by brands that identify with our values, to find products that align with our personalities.  With the prevalence of social media, we are all our own brand and we take care to project ourselves in a specific way.  How many times have you been in a situation and thought very carefully about how best to tweet about it?  How many times have you taken a photograph with the express purpose of putting it on Facebook?  Whether consciously or not, we all run very careful PR for ourselves- from each Facebook status to the beverages we consume.  If I drink Starbucks, what does that say about me as opposed to someone who drinks organic fair-trade green tea?

I know this sounds like a bit of a departure from my usual “leave all your worldly possessions and live in a tree eating berries and nuts” ranting.  It is- and rest assured, there is still nothing I would love more than to leave all my worldly possessions and live in a tree eating berries and nuts- but that’s not the world we live in today.  People who do that eventually get in trouble for tax evasion.  I maintain that it’s important to stay in touch with nature and journey on your individual path to enlightenment, but it’s also irresponsible to forget that the earth is an ecosystem full of people.  You’re here for a reason, and if you don’t participate in the massive world around you it’s going to be mighty difficult for you to figure out what your dharma is.

But I digress.  Anyway, identity is the type of thing that marketers think of these days.  We’re not trying to reach everyone- we’re trying to reach the correct people.  Because of the colossal amount of data available to us- through traditional demographics as well as digital media- we can target better than ever so rather than being bombarded by noise, you’re only found by the people you want to be found by.  Rather than going out and consuming mindlessly, we’re learning to consume in a way that identifies who we are- for example, instead of going and buying a brand of toilet paper simply because I saw a nationally run commercial for it, I would choose a lesser known but more eco-friendly brand because by placing their message in the correct outlet for their target audience (me) to see it, they made me aware that theirs is a more relevant product to my lifestyle.

I’m not saying that all marketers understand this- obviously we all still get junk mail.  But at the same time, have you noticed that after researching which new car to buy, your banner ads now feature used models for sale in your area?  Have you recently bought a new yoga mat on Amazon and subsequently noticed a lot more advertisements for local yoga studios?  I even got tweeted at by @fiatnow after mentioning that I was shopping for a Mini Cooper, one of their major competitors.

It’s a bit disconcerting to hear that people are gaining such a comprehensive understanding of each other- but in a twisted, bizarre sort of way, it means we’re making great strides as a human race.  We may still be trashing the environment and waging wars against each other, but I like to think that perhaps we’re inching closer to a world of compassion where people identify with each other and create useful things to benefit one other.  And sure, it can be frightening to see just how much marketers know about you- but if it means that I get relevant information about new blends of organic tea on sale at Whole Foods instead of spammy offers to enlarge anatomy I don’t possess, sign me up!

A Technological Diet

On a note not entirely unrelated to my recent hiatus from all things internet, today’s post is about the damaging effect of excessive technology.  I haven’t been on the internet much for the last two weeks- the first was because the week before spring break is always hectic at school, and the second was because I took a spur of the moment trip to the Dominican Republic and there wasn’t much internet access.

Since essentially my entire job is based on the internet, I spent lots of time on my computer reading articles, tweeting, blogging, facebooking, and interacting with other organisations.  I obsessively read newsletters, try to keep up with all of the blogs that I follow, and bookmark interesting things to research and write about.  These aren’t the healthiest of things, but I still manage to set myself a limit (albeit a high one) of how much time I spend online.  I noticed a huge shift in my general well-being when I resolved to spend more time not staring at a computer screen.

I also noticed, however, that the amount of time spent around technology isn’t my only problem.  One effect of my self-imposed technology limit was that I was trying to cram everything I usually do into less time.  I was trying to rush through everything and absorb it all in far too little time.  I can control the quantity of my internet usage, but how efficiently I was using it proved much more difficult.  I think that technology itself isn’t what’s really to blame, but how we utilise it.  Instant communication and nearly unlimited information- how could it be a bad thing?  In reality, the availability of information is something that we don’t know how to deal with.  As humans, we just aren’t capable of processing all of the information we throw at ourselves.  Trying to keep track of hundreds of Facebook friends, reading cluttered Twitter feeds, watching viral videos and giggling at memes- though it all seems like mindless procrastination, it still takes brainpower.  Even right now you are processing information as you read this post about how damaging excessive information is.  Ironic.

Our technology is evolving faster than we are.  We’re a species with increasing health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, twitching eyelids, and rapidly increasing ADD diagnoses.  We think this “progress” is helping us, but we’re not really sure how to deal with the information overload.  We’re losing analytical skills because we can look anything up instantly, our conversational abilities are diminishing with each tweet that we send, our memories are disintegrating, and interacting face-to-face is getting more and more difficult.

It’s a losing battle, and not one that we can just walk away from.  After my four days with basically no internet, I came back to 297 emails.  Nothing catastrophic had happened while I was gone, but there were also dozens of things that required immediate attention and that I couldn’t just ignore.  We are all involved in the technological world and there’s really no way to avoid it entirely.

I’ve been mostly successful in preventing a complete media overload by avoiding live television and trying to stay away from overly commercial locations like shopping malls.  Keeping myself sane while working on my own computer has proven to be a lot more difficult though, especially given my current job as a content and social media manager.  I still feel the need to read everything that could possibly be relevant to my life or job and stay somewhat involved with online communities, and I do check Facebook more than I would care to admit.

I’m pretty good at problem-solving, but this one continues to confound me.  How do you avoid a technology overload?  Do you just learn to cope?

Capabilities

You are capable of about a hundred times more than you think you are.  This is sort of related to my post about Body Clocks– I promise, you seriously underestimate yourself.  There’s a conception about what’s a “normal” amount of things to do and how busy people are these days.  That may be true, but our bodies are built to handle stress!  I’m not saying that we don’t all deserve downtime- hey, I make sure I have time for a nice cup of tea at night and a pretty substantial amount of nice, restorative yoga a couple times a week.  But if you do have to go on a seriously intense spree of work, I promise you will survive.

This is a thought that I have periodically around certain times- mid-semester projects, juries, finals, deadlines at work.  Today I was wigging out a bit about my impending recital and the other two concerts in which I am performing in the three days immediately preceding it (not to mention all of the schoolwork and job stuff as well).  I haven’t come that close to a genuine freakout in quite awhile, and it was not something pleasant to experience.  I just had to keep reminding myself that it is not the end of the world, and that I can still balance my life.  Just make some time and take a few extra minutes to breathe.  And on Sunday after my recital, I am going to do nothing for the entire day.  Being busy is just another cyclical part of life, as is making some time to relax afterwards.

In case you need some perspective about what you and your body are actually capable of, here’s a list of awesome facts (I love lists):

  • Your stomach acid can dissolve metals.
  • Human bone is stronger than concrete- it can hold as much weight as granite!
  • Your brain can hold between 3 and 1,000 terabytes of information (makes midterms sound easy)
  • Your brain is immune to pain (think harder)!
  • Your heart can squirt blood 30 feet (don’t try this at home)
  • One human hair can hold 3.5 ounces
  • Your hair is basically indestructible, other than by fire.
  • If it really came down to it, you could still be alive without your spleen, 75% of your liver, 80% of your intestines, a kidney, a lung, and nearly all of the stuff in your pelvic area.
  • Your nose can remember over 50,000 scents (can someone harness this power to memorise other stuff?)
  • You can go for ten days without sleeping.
  • You can go for a month or two without food.
Trust me, whatever you’re going through?  You’ll survive =)
Sources: 1 2

Yes and No

I have always taken every opportunity that life has thrown at me.  This has led to some awesome experiences (getting great gigs, learning to ride a motorcycle through the Himalayas) and some less awesome experiences (not having time to sleep, being unprepared).  There is a delicate line between taking on too little and trying to do too much, and I have definitely spent most of my more recent years jumping back and forth over it.  I’m not afraid of much, but I am terrified of missed opportunities so I often say yes to things that I perhaps shouldn’t.  I’ve found myself taking 27 credits (more than twice a normal courseload) while working three jobs, holding e-board positions in organisations, and finding time to exercise and practice my instruments while still coping, but there have also been times when I’ve taken on a lot less and still felt overwhelmed.

At the same time, it is always important to seize new opportunities when appropriate.  Many people want things but don’t think that they deserve them or are qualified, and they really miss out.  My rule is that you are always capable of more than you think.  I have tried so many different things that I would never have thought myself able to do or enjoy, and I have very rarely regretted it.  As a freshman, I took on the task of accompanying an entire choir (usually a graduate piano major’s job) despite not having had a piano lesson in over six years.  It kicked my ass, but I learned so much from the experience and I’ve been working with the choir since.  This past summer I took a job at a marketing firm as an intern just to make some money.  I said “yes” to any task they asked me to do even if I had no clue how to do it, so I sometimes had to teach myself random things-like designing, slicing and coding an email blast or writing a press release-in an hour.  It was stressful, but I realised that I actually liked working there and had a knack for it, so now I’m graduating school a year early with a job already lined up.  In both of these cases, I was grossly underqualified for the positions, but simply because I took the opportunities that arose, I benefitted immensely.  I often accept opportunities before thinking about whether or not I am capable of them, and even if it blows up in my face (like one time when I offered to fill in for a gig despite having a 104 degree fever) I end up learning a lot more from it.

It’s really difficult to know when it’s a good idea to take something on and when it’s not, not only for time reasons but also just for general wellbeing.  All it is is another way of prioritising, though.  Is the opportunity something you want to do?  Is it something only you can do, or can someone else do it better or enjoy it more than you?  Will this opportunity come by again?  How much of a time commitment is it really, and are you willing to make other sacrifices?  Is it something you will enjoy, or will it stress you out?  Will you be able to make this commitment, or are you spreading yourself too thin?  Will this experience set you apart in terms of your career or other life goals?  Thinking about things like this before you decide whether or not to take a chance or opportunity can be very clarifying, because when you know what your motivation is for making a decision, you will be far more at peace with it and probably also more organised in how you approach it.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Making time

One balance that I find particularly difficult in life is that of time.  I’m always running around trying to get stuff done and I very rarely have time to relax.  I know the importance of just mellowing out every so often, but life is so short and there is so much to do that I often take the “sleep is for the dead” approach.  Many people prefer to take life more slowly and take on less obligations, and that’s fine- but they can benefit from stretching their perception of time too.

The trick in finding your balance is knowing what’s negotiable and what’s not in order to alter your perception of time.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that my only real “pet peeve” is hearing someone say “I don’t have time.”  Nobody magically “has” time.  Successful people create time, because if something is important you must find the time for it.  End of story.  I find it incredibly important to go to the gym every day, so I make time for it no matter what.  I’ll sleep less, I’ll scarf a meal faster than I should (I’m the master of the four-minute lunch), I’ll be a few minutes late to the practice room- I even schedule my classes and rehearsals around gym time.  I’m not joking.  To me, it is a major priority (possibly a major addiction but hey, it’s better than crack).

When you grasp the idea of priorities, your day will magically start to get longer.  Seriously- you will begin to do things more efficiently because you have incentive, and your perception of time will just expand to fill it.  It’s proven:  Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time you have to do them.  Well, Fiona’s Law states that tasks also shrink to fill the time you have to do them.  Haven’t you ever noticed that the busiest people have the most time?

It’s all about priorities and give and take.  If it is a priority for you to go for a run before breakfast twice a week, make it happen no matter what.  Go to bed earlier the night before, arrange your schedule at work a bit differently, stash breakfast at your office- whatever it takes.  When you start to sort out one priority at a time, soon you won’t even think about scheduling anymore.  It becomes second nature to figure out what’s the most efficient way of getting things done so that you can make more time for your priorities.  Here are a few quick tips to help you start prioritising and finding more time:

  • Start small.  Suddenly trying to find four hours every day to practice painting will not happen.  Start with an extra half an hour, and slowly find more when the opportunities arise.
  • Small bits of time add up.  Say you have six classes in a day.  If you wait around for fifteen minutes before each of those classes, that’s 90 minutes right there.  Do something small during those 90 minutes that you would usually have to do at another time, like reading or checking emails.
  • Move quickly.  Seriously, people waste so much time walking slowly.  Get some exercise and get places faster- two birds with one stone!  Also, walking quickly alters your entire mindset- you’ll be much more productive.
  • Multitask.  Research shows that those who multitask don’t do as well with each task.  That may be true, but now much effort does it really take to do the dishes while the water is boiling for dinner?  Or to stop at the post office on the way to the bank instead of making two trips?  Pay bills online while you’re on hold with customer service?
  • Sort your tasks.  Sort of like multitasking: check your emails, facebook, twitter, pay online bills, do anything that needs your computer- at the same time.  If you do similar tasks at the same time, you can move from one to the next much faster than if you were running back and forth all over the place.
  • Say no.  I’m all for taking awesome opportunities and saying “yes” all the time.  But if you’re really in a time crunch and someone asks you to do something that you know someone else is available to do, don’t feel pressured to say yes.
  • Schedule.  I’m a very spontaneous person, but I do keep a schedule.  If you have a schedule of what you need to do in some sort of chronological order (nothing formal, just something loose like “go to the gym for 2 hours in the morning, lunch, go to the bank, then practice for 3 hours, etc.) then you can know exactly how much flexibility you have when something inevitably gets thrown off, you know when you can take a 20-minute coffee break, and you won’t get stressed if you fall a wee bit behind.
  • Organised to-do lists.  Sort of like a schedule, but more long-term.  I keep a list of all my assignments with things that need to get done ASAP and things that have dates way off in the future.  Prioritise things that are due soon, but let yourself slack a little bit with things that are further off in the future.
  • Manage your media.  We live in such a cluttered world.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, commercials, TV…these things are all huge time sucks.  How easy is it to creep on your friends for an hour when you just meant to shoot a quick message, or watch four episodes of Modern Family because they’re all on Hulu?  I’m not saying to go crazy and delete all your accounts, but at be conscious of how much time you spend “plugged in.”  Not only does it physically take time, but it also adds stress and overstimulation to your life.
  • Sleep less.  In a healthy way, not in a miserable caffeine-dependent way.
  • Don’t be a slave.  The idea isn’t the whip yourself to misery.  The point is, by slowly making adjustments to how you perceive time you will naturally become a more efficient person.  Sometimes you just need to park it on the sofa and sit still for awhile, and that’s totally fine.
May you all bask in more free time!

Leaving Negativity Behind

I used to have quite a nasty temper.  I just wrote it off as part of being a passionate, temperamental artist type with strong convictions. My dad always used to ask me “Why are you angry?  Anger is a pointless emotion.”  Of course, this just made me more angry- everyone knows not to tell a really pissed off person to “just calm down-” it feels very belittling.  I, like so many others, did not think that I had control of my emotions.

Recently, though, I’ve been realising more and more how right he was.  Directing negative energy at someone is a whole lot worse for you than it is for the recipient of your energy.  Stewing anger for someone does not magically cause that person to feel upset or have an anvil fall on his head; all it does it brew negativity inside of you.  Even expressing negative emotions towards someone is a waste of time, because it is still energy.  Think about it- isn’t it far worse to be ignored than to have someone scream at you?  Just to clarify, I do not advocate the silent treatment- if there is something that needs to be solved, you have to solve it.  But if there are people that you just don’t jive with, don’t dwell on it and don’t be unkind to them.  Just stay out of their way as much as you can- eventually, I bet you’ll find them less irritating and you may even become friends.  When you don’t waste energy thinking negative thoughts and bearing grudges, eventually they will start to wane and you might just forget them entirely.

This positive thinking also carries through to your inner feelings: you absolutely can control them.  The mindpower to do so comes from two things: knowing yourself very well and being logical.  This goes both ways- you can control how angry you are, and you can also control how happy you are.  It is definitely not an easy thing to do, but I guarantee you that no matter the situation, if you know yourself and you have developed a strong sense of logical thinking, you can tell yourself how to interpret and react to life events.

Feelings are instinctual, so you will always have an emotion that naturally happens.  The trick is to recognise it and change how you think about it.  Then, you have the choice whether or not to express it.  For example- someone being consistently unkind to you.  Your first feeling will probably be anger or sadness- if you recognise that, you can logically tell yourself “lashing out will solve nothing” and just walk away.  You can go have a nice cup of tea and think about something more pleasant, and then just avoid interacting with that person more than you have to.  It really is that easy.  Same thing with grief, like losing someone close to you.  Obviously you are going to be distraught, but that won’t really solve anything.  Some people think that they need to be miserable, and that’s okay for a little while- but if for some reason you need to jump back into the real world before you are ready, it’s entirely possible.  Just to be clear, I am not saying that we should all turn ourselves into emotionless robots.  But often, outside events and our subsequent emotions can affect our inner peace and our enjoyment of the world.  All I’m trying to do is show that you have the power to choose which emotions to feel a lot more than you think.  Sometimes you do absolutely need to feel a bit melancholy for awhile, but you can keep it under control.

Here are some steps you can take to better control your emotions and perception of the world:

  • Know yourself. If you know watching “The Notebook” makes you bawl, don’t watch it unless you want to cry your eyes out.  This also goes the other way- don’t watch a hilarious episode of “It’s Always Sunny” if you are about to go to a wake.
  • Be logical. This is very difficult.  Before you begin expressing anything, take a moment to think about what happened and how you can interpret it.  If someone lashes out at you, maybe he was just having a bad day; let it go.
  • Distract yourself.  It can be a lot easier to control your thoughts when you are busy- distract yourself completely with a good book, or just keep your hands busy with knitting.
  • Set aside time to emote.  If you are going something really tough, it can be hard to focus on being happy all the time and you run the risk of one day exploding into a huge gory mess.  If you give yourself a set ten or twenty minutes to vent and process whatever it is you’re coping with, it can really help during the other 23 hours and 40 minutes of the day.
  • Just let it go.  Honestly, the biggest trick is not to dwell on anything negative.  Like the previous idea- give yourself a few minutes to process, and move on.
  • Keep moving.  Life won’t stop for you, and that’s a good thing!  Let it sweep you up and leave negativity behind.  Say “yes” to opportunities you might come by, or “no” if you’re being overwhelmed.
  • Let it out.  Not in a venting session with some poor friend or even necessarily a therapist- but channel your negative energy into something positive.  I hit the gym for about two hours every single day without exception, and it’s not because I love the elliptical.
  • Find the positive.  Yeah, sometimes it really does seem like there’s no “silver lining.”  But I guarantee that if you look hard enough, you’ll find something to smile about.
Keep on keeping on, friends!

Slacking off is productive!

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of being unproductive: trying to get stuff done when you’re not into it, and not getting stuff done when you’re on a roll.

There are times when I am so productive that I have cancelled plans (super lame, I know) to keep working.  I’ve blasted through tons of things on my to-do list and toiled for hours and felt really good about it.  I’m talking writing five-page papers in 45 minutes, learning a movement of a concerto in a few hours, and cleaning the entire kitchen with a smile on my face.

Conversely, there are times when I have had so much to do but I just couldn’t get into it.  I’ve sat and watched twelve episodes of How I Met Your Mother the night before a term paper was due, avoided the practice room at all costs during the weekend of a concert, and sat on Stumbleupon while I was supposed to be paying bills.

This works, however, because they balance out.  There’s an equilibrium between doing nothing and doing too much.  It’s important to define which is happening, though.  It has to do with honouring your body’s natural cycles– sometimes you have tons of productive energy, and sometimes you just need to mellow out.  If you dishonour this, it’s entirely counter-productive.  I know that if I’m trying to read for class and I keep reading the same sentence over and over again, I’m just going to have to do it again later.  I’ll sit and get stressed about how I can’t focus, and that is entirely counter-productive.  If I’m trying to learn a new piano piece and I can’t make the fingerings come naturally, I’m just going to have to un-do all of the incorrect practicing I do later anyway, which is even harder than starting fresh.  At the same time, sitting playing Portal when I’ve got loads of energy is a waste of time as well.  I could be getting ahead in my work so that later when my energy dips or my friends want to hang out, I can just relax.

Of course, if you’re constantly in a rut you need to make a lifestyle change to get more energy but if you plan ahead and work as much as you can when you can, slacking off is an important part of being productive.  It’s just another one of the dichotomies that life throws at us.  Point is, work hard when you can so that you’re able to play hard when you can’t.

Body Clocks

When my mum used to tell me about why it was important to sleep (even at a young age I didn’t want to waste the time when there was adventure to be found), she used the words “body clock.”  I used to think that we literally had a Dali-esque squishy clock organ inside of our bodies that told us when things needed to be done.  I don’t think I was really that far from the truth, though.  Time is sort of a fallacy created by humans as an attempt to find order in the universe, but at the same time it is entirely authentic.  We just all have our own perception of it through that mythical part of our body: the clock.

Some people like to stay up late, and find themselves most productive in the wee hours of the morning.  Others get up with the sun and find that to be the best.  Some need 9 hours of sleep every night, others only 5 or 6.  I can’t sleep if I eat just before bed, but my brother can devour six pounds of curly fries and sleep like a baby.  Everyone is different, however, everyone is adaptable.

At my worst, I stayed up until 2 or 3 each morning, downed about twelve cups of coffee at 630 each morning to get through the day (not exaggerating), and then caught up with 12-14 hours of sleep each night over the weekend.  I was also sedentary and had terrible eating habits as a vegetarian who had never even met tofu.  I was overweight and miserable.

Then university happened, and there was so much to be done!  I trained myself to be a polyphasic sleeper: I took 4 hour-long naps during the day so I could be awake for 20 hours of the day.  This was miserable for the first two weeks, and then it was awesome.  It was like being high all the time, but with amazing productivity.  I think I accomplished more in a day than some of the other kids on my floor did in a week.  I got a lot thinner and happier.  This pattern didn’t last though, because when you sleep so little you have to be incredibly precise, and having to take a nap every day at dinner time killed my social life.

Now, I’ve reached a happy medium.  I sleep for a solid 6 hours just about every night.  This works because I exercise every day and eat a lot better, so that little bit of sleep is high quality.  In fact, this semester I’m only taking 21 credits and I only have two real jobs so I decided to try sleeping more- but I just can’t do it!  I can get 7 hours if I really wipe myself out, but that’s about it.  Apparently, my window of opportunity is between 3 and 7 hours- but that’s still a lot of flexibility!  Now I’m in great shape and I barely need any coffee- usually just a bit before the gym in the morning.

The point is, everyone has some sort of flexibility with their body clocks.  Anyone who says “I need eleven hours of sleep every night” simply does not know how to optimise his or her life.  Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be strict!  At first, you won’t feel great when adjusting your habits but you have to stick to it.  Research shows that new habits take up to three weeks to form.
  • But be forgiving– if you fall off one day, don’t just give up.  Nobody is judging you- just pick yourself back up and try again.
  • Be careful when you eat– if you know you don’t sleep well after eating a lot, don’t down a bag of chips just before bed!  It takes self control, but try a nice cup of tea instead.  Or at least something light like soup if you’re seriously famished.
  • Set alarms– plural!  I have three alarms every morning set at 15-minute intervals.  Now I wake up before they go off, but when you first start shifting your body clock you need lots of reminders.  Sleeping an extra 15 minutes at one time is better than hitting the snooze button seven times!
  • Exercise!  It will boost your energy during the day and you will sleep so much better at night.  Just know how it affects you personally- are you wired after your workout or do you need to pass out?  Figure out which is best for you, and time your workouts accordingly.
  • Make plans- You’re much more likely to get up if you know you have plans to grab breakfast with your friends.
  • Be productive- You’ll sleep a lot better if you have crossed at least one thing off your to-do list for the day.
  • Follow a circadian rhythm- Sure, some people are night owls.  But I guarantee you that if you can shift yourself to spending more of your waking hours with the sun, your health will improve.  Our bodies are optimised for natural light, not this electrical nonsense.  If at all possible, try to get up earlier in the day!
  • Honor your body- as always.  Sometimes you might find it difficult to stick to schedule.  Once in awhile, it’s totally fine to stay in your bed all day reading or watching trashy TV.  Everyone needs a guilty-pleasure binge once in awhile.  Just make sure you get up on time the next day and greet the world!