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Archive for the ‘Self Improvement’ 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

Choose Your Path

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Success in life is about making choices. When making a decision, it is often difficult to determine which choice is the right one. Just as often, the right choice is a personal one. What is right for you, may not be right for someone else.

As you look back on choices you’ve made, you may determine that you could have made better choices. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Rather, give yourself credit for being able to grow, learn and recognize better choices in the future.

There is one choice that can be applied to any situation and that is choosing not to choose. When you simply let life push you in any direction without making a conscious decision at best you will make no progress. At worse, you could be led down a dark and dangerous path.

Drug abuse, obesity, alcoholism, crime are just a few examples of what is in store for those who choose not to choose. Nobody chooses to be obese – it just sort of happens. Most drug addicts would give anything to free of the uncontrollable urge to do drugs.

When I was a teenager, I was in an environment where drug abuse was common and expected. Everybody was doing it. The default path was to simple become part of that culture. However, I chose not to take drugs. I remember making a conscious choice not to abuse legal or illegal drugs (except caffeine but I did not know it at the time). Being born poor, I knew I had disadvantages in life and that doing drugs was not going to make my situation better. I consider that choice to be one of the most significant choices in my life.

Every time I would hear about someone I once knew who died from an overdose, ended up in prison or was seen lying on the street, I recognized that that was the default path I could have taken. I simply chose not to.

The choice to avoid drugs did have it’s difficult moments. I had to leave or not attend parties where I knew drugs going to be. I had to end or avoid friendships with people who used. I had to accept that I was going to be labelled as “not cool”. The terms “goody-two-shoes”,”narc”,”Momma’s boy” were just some of the labels thrown my way.

Despite my good choices, I did fall into alcohol trap however. For some years as an adult, I chose not to choose regarding alcohol. I knew and know now that there people who can consume alcohol without it being a major problem in their lives, but for me and my family history and the environment I grew up in, the default path led to over-consumption, alcoholism and all the other difficulties associated with drinking too much.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I chose to get out of the alcohol trap and get off the default path. The effects of drinking had only just started to erode the quality of my life so I believe I stopped before I became a full-blown alcoholic.

The important thing to remember is that we always have a choice. If you have been overweight for years, you can choose to take a different path. Sure it may be difficult and require a great deal of effort, but the choice is still yours.

Think about what you really want out of life and then choose to take the path to get you where you want to go.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

August 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

What You Think Is More Important than What You Eat

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Just as you can choose to which foods you put in your body, you can also choose what thoughts to have in your mind. And, just as low quality, unhealthy foods can have a negative impact on your physical health, low quality, unhealthy thoughts can be detrimental to your mental state.

I want to avoid labeling thoughts as “good” or “bad”. Using terms “good” or “bad” would be placing judgement on your thoughts and may lead one to think that they are a bad person for having bad thoughts. Rather let’s use the term maladaptive which is a fantastic word therapists uses to describe what most would call “negative thoughts”. To be consistent with other resources and help with understanding, I may use the term “negative thought” as well. Just know that this does not imply a judgement.

Below is Google’s definition of maladaptive:

maladaptive
not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to the environment or situation.

To promote mental health one can try to control thoughts that are not adjusted to the environment or situation. For example, if it rains on the day you planned to go hiking, the thought, “Why does it always rain when I want to do something outside!” could be considered maladaptive because there is really no connection between the rain and your plans. Thinking that a natural process is working against you is not rational or realistic. Also, the thought, “I should have planned for rain! I’m so stupid” can also be considered maladaptive. It would have been helpful if you had planned for rain, but not doing so is not a reflection on your intelligence. A rational approach would be to consider it as a learning opportunity so you can take steps to account for rain in your future plans. You can replace your maladaptive thought with the rational thought, “If I had planned for rain, I could have packed rain gear and we would have had the unique opportunity of hiking in the rain. In the future, I’ll do that.”

As you can see above, the rational thought would have a person better prepared to handle rain in the future while feeling better in the present.

With dieters we often hear something along these lines: “I’ve tried every diet there is. I just can’t lose weight.” While we know that it is more difficult for some people to lose weight than others, we also know that anyone can lose weight with the right strategies. We can also be sure that this person has not tried “every” diet. A more rational thought could be, “I’ve tried a number of different diets that don’t appear to work for me. Could there be flaws in my approach that I am not aware of? I need to gather more information. I’m sure there is an approach that will work for me that I just have not found yet.”

One approach to changing how you think is to write down your maladaptive thoughts and then right down a rational thought for each. Seriously, don’t just do it in your head. If you want to improve how you think you will need to write it down. You don’t get points for good intentions.

Below is an example of an automatic thought/rational response listing:

Automatic Thought
I failed my exam. I am so stupid.

Rational Response
Obviously, I wasn’t prepared for the exam but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I’ve done well in other exams. What can I do in the future to better prepare myself for an exam?

From the example above, you can see how simple it would be to use this strategy. You can use a paper notebook or word processing software such as Google Docs or Google Sheets. Don’t worry about the medium or the format – just use what you prefer. It’s the process that is important, not the specifics.

I’ve just scratched the surface on the subject of automatic negative thoughts. I suggest you read more. Below is a link to an article that goes into more details:

AHHA: ANT Therapy

It’s surprising how few people know about techniques for managing negative thoughts. When you consider that just about everyone knows that physical exercise is beneficial to your health, why wouldn’t strategies for improving mental health be just as well known? I suspect the stigma of having mental health issues prevents people from even discussing it. There may be a fear that if you do work to improve your mental health, that people may think your mentally unstable. The truth is that everyone could benefit from the strategies.

Once I was asked by friend, “Why do you exercise and eat healthy? You are in great shape.” I was stunned at the person’s lack of understanding of a healthy lifestyle. It’s not a series of actions to get to a certain point and then stop. It’s a way of being. The same applies to developing mental fitness. I don’t do it because I’m mentally ill – I do it because I want a healthy lifestyle.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

July 31, 2014 at 9:39 am

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

Dealing with Disadvantages

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When it comes fitness, there is no level playing field. Below are some disadvantages that people may have when trying to adopt a healthy and fit lifestyle:

  • Genetic predisposition to gaining weight
  • Lack of financial resources
  • Lack of social (family/friends) support
  • Don’t have fit friends to act as mentors
  • Demanding job/career
  • Need to care for children

If you have any of those disadvantages you have my sympathy but you don’t have approval to give up. Even if all the forces of the universe are working against you, you will still be better off doing what you can than simply accepting the cards life has dealt you.

I currently have disadvantages on that list. At some points in my life, I’ve had all of them.

I come from a large family, 5 brothers and 4 sisters, and by “large”, I mean both in terms of the number of siblings and the average size of each member. All my brothers and sisters are overweight and all have type-2 diabetes including my father and my mother passed away due to complications related to diabetes.

Based on my genetic background, I should be overweight. If I didn’t watch what I eat and get regular exercise, I would most likely have type-2 diabetes. My knowledge of my disadvantage pushes me to work harder rather than give up.

As a computer programmer, I have to work even harder to compensate for a very sedentary schedule. It would be natural for me to sit at my PC for 12 hours or more, but I consciously make the effort to incorporate regular intervals of physical activity.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was telling me all the reasons why she was overweight. At one point, I jumped in and said, “So what are planning to do about it?”.  She looked confused at my question. I surmised that she felt she was exempt from living a healthy lifestyle due to her special conditions.

When I give advice, I generally tell people that they need to exercise for an average of an hour per day. When somebody tells me they have a disadvantage, I tell them, “I understand. For you, make it two hours per day.”

My point is that with disadvantages, some people may never have that lean fitness model physique but that shouldn’t prevent them from being the best they can be given the circumstances.

A year ago, I started coaching  a middle aged women who was obese at the time. I was attempting to get her to commit to exercising on a daily basis. She made a valiant attempt but the conditions in her life at the time made it next to impossible to workout for the 30 minutes I recommended she start with.

I then suggested that she exercise for 5 minutes per day, every day, but I made sure she was committed to doing it regardless of whatever else came up. She thought I was joking at first- anyone can exercise for five minutes – but she agreed.

From that point on, five minutes was the least amount of exercise she did on a daily basis, but most often she would do more. Once she got on the treadmill to do her five minutes, it was easy for her to choose to do an 10, 30 or 60 minutes if she had the time to do so. When she didn’t have time to do more, doing the 5 minutes still gave her a feeling of accomplishment. She was meeting the commitment she made to herself.

It’s been six months and she has lost over 30 pounds. She’s also starting to make progress with weight training which was something she refused to try when she started. Once she saw the results of her efforts she was eager to see how far she could go with her new lifestyle.

Except in extreme cases, established fitness habits are far more powerful than any disadvantage a person may face. In the same way a trickle of water, over time, can carve through solid rock, habit can break through any obstacle on the road to fitness.

If you don’t think you can do something due to a conflict or condition in your life, try to focus on building a habit regardless of how small a change that habit may be. Start to track your calories and exercise even if you don’t believe you can change what you eat or do.

Whatever your disadvantages are, if you work on making the smallest achievable changes, you’ll find that overtime you are greater than whatever challenges you face.

 

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Fitness, Life, Self Improvement

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Make Light Weights Part of Your Routine

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I’m an advocate of lifting heavy to build strength and muscle mass. For most of my workouts, I try to stay in the 4-6 rep range. However, I do believe occasionally lifting light weights can help round out your fitness routine.

For example, I’ve been having trouble with my squats. When I was younger I did not give my legs the attention they needed so now that I’m in my 40’s (47), my legs remain a weak point. I’ve been trying to focus on building strength in my legs and even though the amount of weight I can squat has been increasing, I don’t feel the same level of confidence squatting as I do when doing a bench press. My legs are shaky and I don’t feel the connection with my leg muscles.

The bottom line is that my nervous system is unfamiliar with moves. I don’t have the same mind-body connection that I do with my upper body. The key to resolving this is to simply do more squats with perfect form which will help develop the neural pathways. The problem is that, at my age, I can’t do squats with heavy weights more than once per week – I’ve tried and found that it doesn’t give me enough recovery time between sessions.

My strategy at this point is to do moderately heavy squats (rep range 6-10) one day and very low weight squats another day (nonconsecutive). On the low weight day, it’s all about form and not going to failure. I’m probably not stimulating the muscles enough to grow on my low weight day but that’s not the goal. I’m just trying to train my nervous system. I am also building muscular endurance and helping to develop connective tissues. I am training myself so that I can give 100% (or more) on my heavy squat day.

Using light weights gives you an opportunity to really take it slow and focus on form. I know of a lifelong bodybuilder who would use light weight for weeks when adding a new exercise into his routine. He’s still working those muscles with other exercises but is patient enough to only add the new exercise when his body is trained to handle it.

For a person of my age and size, I’m really proud of my chest routine. I can go to extreme levels of intensity and really push myself, getting that extra rep or two beyond failure. I believe the reason I can do this is due to my early years of doing a sick amount of push-ups. I have such an intimate connection with the muscles in my chest, triceps and wrists so I know how far I can push them.

Go heavy or go home, but if you do go home, give light weights a try.

 

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

May 11, 2014 at 4:47 pm