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Helpful tips to living a better life

Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Live Fail Repeat

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Last night I watched the movie, Live Die Repeat : Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. I enjoyed it and would recommend it for action movie fans. It was the premise of the movie that intrigued me – the main character, a solider in a war against alien invaders, is able to reset time after dying.

Being in a war against a superior alien force, the opportunities to die are plentiful. Also knowing that he’ll be able to start over, the main character is able to take risks he would have previously avoided. Each time he dies he gets to try again learning from his previous attempts. As you would expect, he becomes a nearly invincible and fearless soldier.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had that ability? Would you believe me if I told you that you do have a similar ability?

For most goals, the penalty for failing is not death. We do have the opportunity to try as many times as necessary. Each time we fail we can take what we’ve learned and try again.

Why is it that most see failure as a permanent condition, like death?

In my life I have failed several times. I had found that sometimes success can be more difficult than failure. When you succeed you have to move into uncharted territory. You have to start the fail and repeat cycle all over again and run into new pitfalls. In additional after success, you often have more to lose if you fail.

Your level of success will depend on your ability to handle failure and keep learning.

Most often, there is no clear distinction between success and failure. For example, suppose someone named Jake took a job as a manager for the first time. As a new manager, Jake is bound to make mistakes but it is just as likely there will be aspects of the job that he excels at. Depending on the environment he works in and his ability to highlight his strengths, he could be perceived as failing or succeeding as a manager.

The better approach would be to work on areas that need improvement while recognizing areas and taking pride in areas that he excels at. Another approach would be to focus only on the areas he excels at and market himself as a specialist. Either approach may apply.

As a technologist, I constantly have to learn new skills so I get the chance to fail quite often. In the middle of my career, I found this process to be extremely stressful, but then I got better at coping with the reality of the situation and now I look forward to trying something new. What was once a curse is now a blessing.

What have you always want to do but didn’t because you were afraid of failing? What would be the worse that could happen if you tried and failed? Could you try again? Would your chances of success increase after failing? Whatever it is, I think you know the answer. The next question is: What are you going to do about it?

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

October 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Don’t Compare Yourself With Anyone

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As we strive to improve ourselves, it is tempting to compare ourselves with others. No matter how much we are failing, there will be someone else we can look at and tell ourselves that at least we are doing better than them. On the flip side, it is also true that no matter how successful we are, there will be someone else doing better.

Comparing ourselves with others is a destructive habit. It can prevent us from pushing forward when faced with failure and it can be demotivating when we are succeeding.

When you compare yourself with someone else, you are not seeing the whole truth. Everyone is different, with different motivations, advantages, backgrounds and strengths. Someone who is doing better than you at one aspect of life, may be struggling in others where you excel. A person who is failing where you are doing well, may not place the same level of importance on that particular endeavor. Whatever the differences, when you compare yourself to someone else, it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

The better approach is to look to others for inspiration and strategies. It is not only acceptable to look to others for ideas, it is required to succeed. The difference is that you need to be more concerned with the behaviors than the results. Ask yourself: What is the other person doing that contributed to their success and is this a behavior I can adopt?

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

June 11, 2014 at 7:42 am

Change Your Mind, Change Your Body

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Living a healthy and fit lifestyle requires a constant and high level of effort. For those of us who were not raised in an environment that promoted exercise and and healthy diet, there can be a persistent pull to return to old habits. As much as we know that a healthy lifestyle is not temporary, our habits and conditioning will take much longer to adjust.

It can be exhausting to consciously push myself on a daily basis to get my workout done and to avoid certain foods. It has gotten easier but I wish the urge to exercise was as natural as my urge to sit on the couch and just watch TV. I wish I craved broccoli or spinach as much as do cheesecake or pizza.

When I see someone who is obese eating foods that contribute to their life threatening condition, I can relate. I get it. I can’t judge because if it were not for being exposed to positive influences, that would be me. From a genetic and environmental standpoint, I should be about 300 pounds, suffering from diabetes and dealing with a number of other health issues.

What keeps me going is knowing what is true. I don’t think that if I gave up I may end up overweight and prematurely die – I know that it will happen. I don’t think that eating right and exercise may keep me in shape – I know that it will. I have learned to avoid the soft words – could, would, should, may and I try to frame things in definite terms. I will exercise and eat right or I will suffer and die.

Knowing, without a doubt, the paths that are available to me has pushed to go beyond what is needed to be healthy and fit. With my risk factors, I can’t afford to be on the line between healthy and unhealthy lifestyles. I have to stay as far away from that line as possible. If 20% body fat is healthy, than I’ll strive for 10%. If exercising 3 times per week is part of healthy lifestyle, than I’ll exercise 5 times per week. If 80% compliance to eating healthy is good enough, than I’ll strive for 95%.

I believe the reason why so many people struggle to get healthy and fit is that they think too small and too big. They overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term and they underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term.

I knew an obese woman, who must been about 220 pounds, say that if she got down to 180 pounds she would be happy. That still about have been over 50 pounds overweight. If she had accomplished that, it would have been a great accomplishment, but what do you think would happen when she hit that goal? She would struggle to maintain that weight and with the lack of something to strive for she would eventually gain the weight back and then some.

Another thing that bothers me it that she put weight loss as a prerequisite for happiness. Happiness is not related to how much you weigh. Being healthy and fit can help you be happy, but ultimately, happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy at 300 pounds and you can choose to be miserable when you are lean and fit. She got it in reverse. Getting fit is not be a prerequisite for happiness. Happiness is a prerequisite to getting fit. When you choose to take action to improve your live, you can choose to be happy about the journey.

When I first started on my fitness journey, I looked for something visual to focus on as a marker for what I wanted to achieve. I picked the Men’s Health magazine with Ryan Reynolds on the cover as something to strive for. I decided that was going to be the level of leanness I was looking for. As out of shape as I was, most people would have considered that unrealistic, but when I chose that cover as a visual goal, I knew without a doubt I was going to achieve it. To be accurate, I knew without a doubt that I was going to take the actions I needed that would get me to that level of leanness – whether or not I achieved it was irrelevant.

I had thought that I was choosing a goal that would keep me busy for the next five to ten years. I met my goal in one year. From looking at the cover, I would guess that his body fat percentage was between 10-12%. I believe I hit 10% this past January – it’s hard to know for sure as the calipers I use are not that accurate at that level of leanness but at this point losing any more fat has to be judged by how I look in the mirror – if I choose to continue.

Even thought I did accomplish it in one year, If I had decided to hit my goal in one year, I probably would have failed. During the process, every time I had a set-back, I would tell myself that I was in this for the long term and that I would succeed and with every step forward I would feel a sense of accomplishment that I was progressing. With that mindset I did not rush and I was not forced to starve myself.

The real secret to my success was in setting a definite path. When I started, I thought really hard about what it would take to accomplish my goal. I also took an honest assessment of my limitations. I knew that I had a tendency to be really enthusiastic at the start but then would lose interest over time. I decided then that if I did lose interest that I would continue anyway. I realized at the start that my ability to keep going when I did not feel like it was going to be the reason I succeeded or failed. With that in mind, every time I exercise when I did not feel like it, I gave myself extra credit.

The day you exercise when you don’t feel like it is worth more than ten days you exercise when you are eager to do so. That day you refrain from eating unhealthy foods when your cravings are almost unbearable is many times more important than those days when there are no temptations.

When we give in to our urge to miss a workout or eat unhealthy foods, we miss out on an opportunity to grow.

I apologize for rambling in this post but it is difficult to write in words the inner challenges we must face when making lifestyle changes. Anyone who ever succeeded has had to figure out how to address the internal changes they must make to achieve their goal. To succeed in adopting a healthy and fit lifestyle is more about what is going on in your head than it is about exercise or diet.

 

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

June 2, 2014 at 9:16 am

Always Do What You Believe Is Right

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Whatever your goals are, I’m going to advise that you should do whatever it takes. However, this does not include doing things that are against the law or against your principles. Sometimes it appears that the only way to get ahead in life is to lie, cheat, steal and step on others. People who are willing to push aside ethics may have an advantage in terms of material success, but anyone who breaks the rules will ultimately be a failure regardless of how much money, power or luxury items they have.

We all know this is true. We’ve all seen examples of people who appear to have it all but yet we instinctively know them for the loser that they are. No amount of bling can cover a dark heart.

Throughout my life, I’ve been at a number of crossroads where I was given a choice between doing something I know is wrong to get a little further ahead or doing the right thing and deal with a setback. I always chose to do what I believe was the right thing. I don’t agonize over it and I don’t look back and regret it. They way I see it is that I don’t have a choice. I do what’s right no matter what the stakes are.

I’ve been accused of being self-righteous when I suggest that we always do the right thing. It’s not about “righteousness” – it’s about being able to appreciate and enjoy everything you’ve earned. If you don’t earn it the right way, you will always wonder if you could have achieved it without violating your principles.

Self doubt can be extremely difficult to deal with. We need every bit of evidence we can get to prove to ourselves that we are worthy of success. Every time you cheat your principles you are building a case against your self worth. You are providing evidence that you are a fake. On the other hand, if you take the high road and refuse to compromise on your principles, you can be proud of everything you have an earn.

I struggled for years with my principle based lifestyle. Some days, I would feel like a schmuck who was passing up on an opportunity while others did whatever they wanted to get ahead. Now that I’m older, I can look back and know I made the right choice. I appreciate all that I have and I’m proud of what I accomplished. I can raise my kids knowing that I am a worthwhile father. People who know me, respect and trust me.

Trust, respect and love are the greatest things in life. You only grow those aspect of your life by living within your principles. It take years to build trust and respect but you can lose all of it in a single day. Once you do something to violate that trust, people will question everything you’ve ever accomplished.

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 9, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Don’t Always Trust Your Gut

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There were times in my life that following my gut instinct reaped huge rewards. Unfortunately, there were also times when my gut steered me wrong. In general, when I don’t have enough information to make a knowledgeable decision, I go with my gut.

When it comes to diet and exercise, my gut is unreliable. It’s trying to lead me to the path of least pain and discomfort. When I’m pushing myself during my workout, it is telling me to stop. With food, it tries to steer me to the most calorie dense and tasty meals. When I’m having a high-fat, high carb burger from a fast food restaurant, it “feels” right even though I know it is bad for me.

When I’ve had a hard day at work, it is telling me to take it easy and relax when I know I need to exercise. I have to ignore the impulse and just start my workout.

In the animal kingdom, impulse drives action. If an animal has the urge to do something, it does it. As humans, we have the ability to choose whether or not we will obey the urge and decide to do another action based on what we know is best for us in the long term. Most people only choose to suppress their urges when there is strong social pressure to do so and sometimes not even then. They just follow along with what most other people are doing.

The truly civilized person, will consider every action and try to do what they know is best regardless of urges or social pressure.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

April 18, 2014 at 11:31 am

Self Discipline Can Be Developed

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There’s a common misconception that your amount of self discipline is a trait you are born with and can’t be developed. Try telling that to the military which repeatedly turns fresh recruits into strong soldiers.

Sure genetics are a factor, but self discipline is more a result of influence and circumstance than genes. I personally know a set of identical twins who have radically different levels of self discipline. One is hard working family man who gets up every day and goes to work and also keeps his yard well groomed. The other can’t keep a job and routinely blows off work and family.

The first step to developing self discipline is to be honest with yourself and taking complete responsibility for your behavior. There may be many external factors that have had a negative impact on your self discipline, but you can decide to take action now to build self discipline.

Create a list the behaviors you would like to develop. For example, if you have a habit of being late for work, you might want to add “Get to work on time everyday”.

When you have your list, pick the behavior you would like to develop first. It is important to pick  a behavior that is not dependent on another behavior you need to develop. You can’t decide to go running everyday at 6AM if you currently have a problem with getting up before 8 AM. I’m not saying you can strive to do both, but your immediate focus should be on getting up early.

The next step is to track your compliance to the new behavior or habit. You can mark it down on a calendar, smart phone or online log. Whatever tool you use, make sure you are consistent and track whether or not you did what you are tracking. The goal is to try to have as many successful consecutive days as you can.

How many days it will take to develop the habit varies from person to person and habit to habit. There’s this belief that it take 21 days to form a new habit but in truth it can vary from 10 day to a year or more. In general, the easier it is to perform the habit action, the shorter the time it takes to develop the habit. Deciding to eat an apple everyday is going to take less time to make a habit than it would be to run a mile everyday.

When I first started trying to develop the habit of exercising everyday, I failed repeatedly for a couple of months before I was able to consistently exercise every day. Even then, it was still an act of will to keep doing it. It took me 6 months before it became a habit. Now I would find it uncomfortable to miss a workout.

I’ve read a few great books about how to form habits. My favorite is the Habit Factor because it is concise and easy to follow. There is even a companion app you can install on your smart phone to help you track your habit streaks. I highly recommend using a habit tracking app even if you track your habits on a more general purpose application. For some, paper and pencil is the best approach – it’s up to you.

 

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

March 28, 2014 at 8:11 am

In Just 15 Minutes Per Day You Can …

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In just 15 minutes per day, you can learn a new skill or become an expert on a particular subject. The catch is that you have to do it everyday for as long as it takes to reach the level of competency you desire.

If you do this, it is unlikely you will limit your learning to just 15 minutes every day. There will be days when you become inspired and decide to spend several hours learning. Still, it is more important to remain consistent and continue to do 15 minutes per day.

It would be a mistake to think that you can cram and replace several short learning sessions with an extended session. The brain doesn’t work that way. You need to have a consistent pattern of learning over a long period of time to retain the knowledge or skill.

I used this technique to learn how to type. When I was at my peak, I was able to type over 70 word per minute and I achieved this by practicing everyday for at least 15 minutes. I would rarely practice more than an hour but I always practiced at least 15 minutes.

If 15 minutes is too much time to commit to, you can try 10 or even just 5 minutes. If you do it everyday, you will see progress. In my opinion, if you are going to spend 5 minutes on something, it would be a missed opportunity to not continue for at least 15 minutes, but that’s just my experience – it may fit your lifestyle.

There’s a bunch of brain science to back this up but why not simply try it. There may be skills that require too much prep time for 15 minutes to be realistic (scuba diving, flying a plane) but even then once your are actively engaged in the learning process, 15 minutes will produce results.

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

March 24, 2014 at 7:54 am