Why I Do Bizarre Things (Why Not)

snow feetI know I have already written about why I like to spend my life barefoot, but running around barefoot is only one of many things I do that the general public seems to find strange, closely followed by prolific tree-climbing and excessive marmite consumption.

It has never occurred to me not to do exactly what I want to.  I don’t ignore my responsibilities or run around pillaging – I just mean that if I think something looks fun or seems like a good idea, I do it.  Being barefoot is a good example because it’s something largely frowned upon by society.  As I’ve said before – I get mixed reactions including anything from thumbs-up to weird looks and occasional rudeness.  But that never really made me want to put on a pair of shoes.  I don’t like shoes, so I don’t wear them.  Fin.  Another example is my penchant for travel.  Most people I encounter in the US find me to be extraordinarily well-travelled, but to be honest I never really put much thought into it.  Really, what usually happens is a thought like “Wow, I would love to go to an awesome new place” closely followed by a visit to kayak.com and a few weeks later, another stamp on my passport.  Assuming you have some sort of income, don’t have to lug a bunch of kids with you, and aren’t trying to go somewhere with strict visa procedures, yes, travelling really is that easy.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I don’t often find people who choose to live life in a similar fashion.  Sure, I meet those who have similar interests or don’t mind being a bit outlandish – but it’s extremely rare to come across someone who will randomly do anything just because why not.  

But Fiona,” they all say, “Why not is not a reason to do something.”

And then I ask, “Why not?”

And there’s no answer.

Because “Why not” is not a question.  It is the answer.

Could you imagine if we only did things for which there is a specific reason?  We would eat when we were hungry, sleep when we were tired, and do nothing else.  If we assumed some sort of sentience, then perhaps we would also procreate when the need struck and occasionally seek out human companionship.  Now I know we all have jobs and occasional doctor’s appointments, but think- when was the last time you did something that did not fall into one of those categories?   Does it ever seem like you do other things like watch TV and go on the Internet just to waste time between doing those four things?  That’s called complacency.  And it’s killing us.

Look, I’m not some crazy hippie living in a tree with no job or cares in the world.  I have a demanding full-time job and lots of little things going wrong in my life, just like we all do.  I’m not saying we should all shirk our responsibilities and dance around in the meadows making daisy chains (but that is an open invitation, good for anyone who shows up on my doorstep).  I’m just pointing out that we, as a human race, are pretty boring.

People often make pop culture references and upon seeing my blank stare, accuse me of living in a cave.  But did you know there are flying machines that can take you to faraway places in just a few hours?  Did you know that on the Internet, there are things to read and learn about in addition to cat videos and photos of your exes?  Did you know that if you just go outside for a walk, you’ll learn something new about yourself?  People seem so shocked to hear little things like “Oh, I went and got lost in the woods this weekend”  or, “Yeah, I’ve been to India” that I definitely don’t think I am the one living in a cave.  

So if there’s something you want to do, that you think will make you happy even just for an instant, why aren’t you doing it?   You don’t have to take off for Mongolia – just do something that never occurred to you before.  Jump in a puddle.  Read a book that looks way too long.  Try belly dancing.  Fly by the seat of your pants; be spontaneous; do something just because you can’t think of a reason not to, and find energy in it.  Don’t live outside your comfort zone – expand your comfort zone to include things that are exciting and unusual.  Get out of your cave and interact with the world.  You don’t need a reason.

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Being Barefoot

In addition to my bizarre scheduling and sleeping habits, many people question my footwear preferences.  Today’s topic: deciding to give up shoes!

I had never liked wearing shoes, but I didn’t really have the freedom to choose not to while I was in high school.  During the summer and then at university, I was free to be basically as eccentric and strange as I wanted.  I started being barefoot at home, in class, walking around campus, performing, frolicking, pretty much always.  I would estimate that I spend about 98% of my time barefoot, since some restaurants give me a hard time and there’s one specific bus driver who seems to be out to get me and my poor bare feet.

Why be barefoot?  I’m a dirty hippie.  No but really- it’s more natural, it’s healthy, it’s more comfortable, it’s more relaxing, and most importantly it just makes me happy (fun fact: dirt has lecithin, a mood lifting chemical also found in chocolate- and it can be absorbed through your feet!).  I’m not the only one, either- there are lots of us out there!  One group is the Primal Foot Alliance– they are barefoot advocates who work hard to prove to the public that there’s nothing gross and unhealthy about feet.  Their website has resources explaining why being barefoot is awesome and there’s a great community there and on their Facebook page.  Barefooters.org is another great place to meet people close to your home who also choose not to wear shoes.

There are many stereotypes about people who are barefoot- that we’re dirty, poor, sick, unhygienic, socially handicapped, unprofessional- the list goes on.  I get all kinds of reactions to my bare feet- in the morning sometimes people think I’m doing the “walk of shame,”  sometimes people look at me like I walked out of a sewer, some find it amusing, and others are simply curious and strike up a conversation-usually they’re totally on board and on a few occasions, I got people to join me!

First of all, being barefoot is totally safe.  After being barefoot for awhile, you can step on glass without getting hurt- this took me a month or so of being entirely barefoot (some people wean themselves off of shoes gradually, but I never  do anything halfway so I just jumped right in).  Really, just look where you’re going.

Being barefoot is also far healthier and cleaner than shoes- foot fungus and other unsavory ailments come from sweat trapped around your feet by socks and shoes; they’re not inherently found on feet.  Wiggling your toes in the fresh air will eliminate smelliness and unwelcome bacteria!  Sure, occasionally you step on something gross- but it’s far easier to flick gum off of a bare foot than scrub if out of a pair of shoes.  Not to mention, all of the extra germs you expose your feet to boost your immune system- I haven’t been sick in years.

Humans are just animals- our bodies are engineered to work optimally without extra appendages like clothing and accessories (Coming up next week: why we should stop wearing pants…Just kidding).  Your feet will be stronger and more effective without footwear- why do you think people are inventing Barefoot shoes?

After you get used to it, being barefoot is far more comfortable than being shod.  Ladies in particular (or gentlemen, no judgment here) will appreciate the lack of pinching around the toes from cute flats and the searing knee pain brought on by dancing around in tall spikes.  Walking on gravel and rough surfaces hurts at first but once you get used to it, wandering barefoot through cool grass and on smooth warm dirt makes it worth it.  Being barefoot changes your entire mentality- I feel far more relaxed and connected with the world.  It’s like I can feel the earth spinning, vibrating, and breathing beneath my feet.

Would you ever go barefoot?  Maybe not in a professional environment, but at the park or around your own garden perhaps?  Maybe just for a little while?

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?

Eating Organic Without Going (more) Broke

Eating organic is often included in the green and healthy lifestyle that many people are starting to adopt.  Obviously it’s healthier to eat foods that haven’t been doused in pesticides or injected with hormones, but it is definitely an expensive option.  My good friend is taking a class in which she has to eat not only organic, but also only entirely unprocessed foods for two days.  This is going to be very expensive for poor college students, which will quite possibly turn off the entire class from every trying to eat organic.  I think it’s very important to realise that eating healthy and organic isn’t an all-or-nothing decision.  You don’t have to throw away all of your prepared foods or shun cheese forever, because even just making small changes does help.

It’s important to know the differences in terminology before you go shopping.  “Natural” means basically nothing- it is a term that is not really regulated by the FDA.  “100% organic” clearly means that there are no synthetic ingredients in the food.  “Organic” means that 95% of a food’s ingredients are organic.  “Made with Organic Ingredients” means that 70% of the food’s ingredients must be organic- these three terms are regulated by the FDA.

Some foods are more important to eat organic than others.  For example, fruits with thick peels are more resistant to pesticides, so it’s not always imperative to buy those organic.  If you eat meat on the other hand, it’s pretty important to make sure it hasn’t been fed antibiotics or hormones.  Here’s a brief list of some of the most and least important foods to worry about.

Watch out for:

  • Apples, peaches, and other tree fruits
  • Celery
  • Berries
  • Leafy greens
  • Bell Peppers
  • Grapes, raisins, and wine
  • Potatoes
  • Meats, milk- the fat retains pesticides that the animals ingested
  • Coffee, chocolate- The beans are often grown in countries with few regulations
  • Rice
  • Green Beans
  • Cucumbers

Don’t worry about:

  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet peas
  • Mango
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms
  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Asparagus
  • Mango
  • Avocado
  • Onions

There are other ways to save money while trying to stay healthy and unprocessed as well.

  • Buying in bulk is always great if you know it won’t go bad and you have space to store it.
  • Take a page out of your granny’s book and use coupons– seriously, I LOVE coupons.  Sometimes I leave the store with them practically paying me.
  • Buying generic is a good idea- a store brand of plain organic vegetables is usually pretty indistinguishable from a fancy brand.
  • See if you can buy frozen– if you’re just making soup or smoothies, frozen fruits and vegetables are adequate.  Also, sometimes canned goods are great too.  The canning process actually sometimes gets rid of pesticides, but you do have to worry about BPA in the can linings.
  • Buy local and in season– obviously strawberries are going to be expensive in January when they have to come from some distant land.  Also, it’s more eco friendly since your food hasn’t travelled as far and healthier since they haven’t been treated with chemicals for the long journey.
  • Buy less processed food– not only is this far healthier, it will obviously save you money because you’re not paying for labor.  You’ll consume less sodium, oils, and chemicals with frighteningly long names.  Also, many foods lose nutritional value when they’re overcooked as they often are in prepared foods.  Make your own prepared foods by going on a cooking spree every few days and storing individual portions.

If you can’t find or afford organic goods, just make sure you do the best you can by washing food, peeling skins and outer leaves, and trimming fats.

Remember, it’s not an all-or-nothing approach.  Little efforts do add up!

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How to Be Alone

One of my close friends shared this video on Facebook recently, and I thought it was a beautiful and poignant expression of the human condition.  Allowing yourself to be alone is sort of like allowing yourself to be quiet and keep excess noise from your life.

Being alone is definitely something that scares a lot of people, because it really does force you to be yourself- you have no one left to impress, you have no need for conscience, and it is really the only time when you are free to be yourself in your purest form.  I would venture to say that a lot of people don’t really know themselves because they do not spend time alone.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course- human beings are adaptable by nature.  It’s no secret that people act differently depending on their surroundings- I can be irritatingly cheerful if it’s sunny outside and I’m enjoying a nice walk, but catch me off guard in a practice room and I will most likely be nearly unapproachable.  This applies to the people you’re with as well- when I’m around my brother, we’re probably planning mischief or perhaps already in the midst of blowing something up, but when I’m at work I am (believe it or not) entirely capable of being serious.

But who am I when I am alone?  I’ve never had to explain it, really.  And why would I?  As long as who you are when you are alone is somebody that you are comfortable with, that’s what matters.  It’s really helpful in the process of finding out who you are to spend time alone, free from distractions and ego, because when you know who you are everything else really becomes a lot easier.  Decisions, enjoying life, knowing what you like and don’t like- even being far more confident.  When you’re alone enough to stop worrying about others judging you, then eventually you’ll stop worrying about it even when you’re not alone.

I’m not saying to be a hermit by any means.  But I feel that humans in general get so caught up in specific relationships and people and connections that we lose sight of the individual.  We all need to learn to be at peace with ourselves before we can be at peace with others.

Anyway, I hope you all find some time in your hectic lives to get to know yourselves a bit more.  You deserve it!

Noise

A few days ago, I got this email from WWF about noise pollution destroying natural habitats in the Arctic.  Though this particular issue is that drilling for oil creates noise that is harmful to animals, it made me think about how it’s also an increasing problem for humans.

We all know that noise is bad for us- loud rock concerts, screaming children, a particularly loud brass player in the next practice room-whatever.  Blaring advertisements and overstimulation are part of our everyday life.  But there’s a far more innocuous type of noise that’s just as negative- background noise.  It’s something that we all think we tune out, but it still takes a toll on our bodies.  According to this article from Women’s Health, excessive noise doesn’t allow our bodies time to recover, so they produce negative stress hormones, causing weakened immune systems, excessive nervousness, and even heart disease.  Small noises even affect your concentration.  What I found interesting to read about wasn’t just the obvious idea that noise is negative, but that the reason why we tolerate it is out of a sort of unwillingness to be introspective: we are too afraid of our own thoughts, so we drown them out.  This article even suggestions mindful meditation to get used to hearing your own thoughts so that silence is no longer frightening.

This is a thought that really rang true for me.  I remember a time when I used to blast really loud music so I couldn’t hear my thoughts, and in fact I still do it sometimes.  When I’m at the gym, I pump my music up loud so I can’t hear myself getting tired (I really do have a lot of terrible gym habits that I am not proud of…).  It wasn’t until I really started to engage in yoga and meditation that I began to appreciate quiet.  I can understand that meditation really is difficult at first, though- and it doesn’t get easier overnight.  It’s also hard for us with our Western way of thinking to believe that it’s productive to sit and literally do nothing even for 20 minutes.  It really is, though- if you can channel your thoughts and learn to tune out the noise- not just audible noise, but also unimportant thoughts, pains, and pollution from the media- your mind will become much sharper and more efficient.  You can train your mind to do anything, with enough time- to feel physical pain less, to react differently to negativity, to focus on one task to get it done.  If you can train yourself to enjoy listening to your mind, I guarantee that you will feel better for it.  It sounds cheesy, but you really will get to know yourself better and that’s an integral part of the journey towards finding peace.  It’s worth struggling through 10 or 20 minutes of spending time with only your mind for company, no distractions.  Perhaps a mantra will help you as well.

Anyway, I know that this isn’t quite in the spirit of Fat Tuesday celebrations, but I’m sure that tomorrow everyone will appreciate a bit of quiet 😉  Namaste!

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!

Coffee: let’s settle this once and for all.

I used to be pretty addicted to coffee.  We’re talking 20-25 cups each day.  Within the last few years I’ve been a lot better, only having 2 cups before hitting the gym every morning and maybe one more during the day every so often.  This week, I totally slipped back into old habits.  Not terribly, but yesterday I drank about seven cups, the day before I had four, and the beginning of the week was rough too.  I didn’t feel jittery or any extremely negative effects, but it did make me wonder about caffeine.  There have been so many studies done that seem to contradict each other, but here’s a roundup of what I’ve found so you can decide for yourself.  These are mostly about coffee, but in many cases are applicable to any naturally occurring caffeine.

  • Studies suggest that it reduces risks of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, liver disease, gout, diabetes, some cancers, gallstones, and Parkinson’s.
  • It dulls pain (hence my pre-workout coffee chugging)
  • Improved endurance for long-term activities (again, a great pre-gym beverage!)
  • Boosts energy and productivity (but you do usually “crash.”  This Harvard study recommends drinking small amounts of coffee during the day to avoid this.)
  • Can reduce risk of heart attacks
  • Laxative- this can be good or bad, I suppose.  This is specific to coffee, not necessarily other caffeine sources.
  • Diuretic- some say that in moderation, it doesn’t dry you out but personally I think I still get a bit drier.  Also specific to coffee.
  • Dependency- caffeine is pretty addictive.
  • Stomach problems- coffee is very acidic so upset stomachs are not uncommon and can lead to damaging of the stomach’s lining
  • Jitters
  • Sleep patterns change- this is pretty easy to control, though.  Often not drinking coffee in the afternoon is all it takes.
  • High cholesterol- Coffee increases LDL levels.  Paper filters can help reduce this effect, but using more eco-friendly French Presses do not.
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease- perhaps the raised cholesterol effect is slight so this outweighs it?
  • Can slow cognitive effects of aging- similar to how it slows Alzheimer’s, perhaps?
  • Increased metabolism
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent urination (yeah, this is unfortunate)
  • Can increase cortisol, though you can build a tolerance
  • Can reduce harmful effects of alcohol, according to this MSNBC article– does only mention the damage to the liver though, not any terrible decisions you might have made as a result of being inebriated (sorry)
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means and not all of what I read was particularly scholarly- if you have more information, please let me know!  I realise that relying on a substance is a terrible, terrible thing.  But the way I see it, as long as I don’t wake up craving a cup and as long as I’m not dozy and useless without it, it’s a pretty innocuous indulgence.  I really do notice a big difference when I drink some before hitting the gym, as well.  My stamina is far better and I also feel that I get a more efficient workout.  Once in awhile needing a cup mid-day isn’t great since it means I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as long as I know I can crash later it’s not a huge issue.  Its effects like higher cholesterol, cortisol, and blood pressure can all be counteracted by exercise and maintaining low stress levels, so as far as I’m concerned we are in the clear, fellow coffee-drinkers!

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.