Tag Archives: self improvement

Taking a Deep Breath of Ocean Air

ImageI just had a very interestingly timed conversation- just as I was about to start typing.  It was short and to the point, but after yesterday’s little panic attack, it’s comforting.  A gal that I’m casually seeing- North Carolina massage therapist (NCMT) told me (and is telling me as I’m typing) how she’s back from having just diffused a situation.  A new WWOOFer was apparently a little stressed, and, in here words, “tripping.”  She mentioned how it wasn’t a big deal, and how she’d caught herself tripping out and stressing a few days before when she was snapping at me.  She then went on to say that everybody does it.

I have a habit of rolling my eyes when she talks about her intuitive feel for people, and understanding of human nature- especially when she drops full sized generalizations like “everybody trips out.”  The eye roll came, and I quipped that I hadn’t had a freak out yet.  Her was response?  “You and I are different.  Yours is going to be quiet and in your head.”  Yesterday came back to me, and I realized that, as much as it bothers me to admit it, she’s to some extent or another correct.

I had my little freakout yesterday.  I hadn’t put much thought to it today, but that’s probably because I managed to get it out of my system.  I panicked under the stress of a new environment, let the tension build up in me, and had a private meltdown last night.  It’s liberating knowing it for what it is, and even more comforting that I’m not the only one experiencing it, even if it manifests itself in different ways with different people.  I’m a little more ready to face the future and world.

Have any of yall ever had minor meltdowns or travel stress from a new environment?  How’d you deal with it?

The Ballad (Dirge?) of a Southern Man in Hawaii

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“But I guess it’s something you don’t understand.” — The Texas sunset (undoctored image)

It’s worth prefacing this by saying that I love life.  I’m thrilled to be in Hawaii.  I’ve been here for two weeks and my world is already changing and my horizons are expanding.  Some of my preconceived notions are being challenged, and others are being reinforced.  This may well be, as made famous by Dilbert, my paradigm shifting without a clutch.  Maybe it’s just not engaged fully and there’s a bit of gear grind.  It’s about time for my turn- god knows I’ve put my Jeep through it enough.

I miss Texas.

Change is good, Hawaii is beautiful, I’m meeting all sorts of wonderful people, and I wouldn’t even consider taking back this decision- but, dear god do I miss Texas.

I’m not just the only Texan here, I’m the only southerner here.  That seems like a silly thing to cause any sort of trepidation, but you begin to realize that there are distinct regional differences rather quickly.

The 10ish people who have been here or that are here are a surprisingly homogenous crowd, even though none of them are traveling together or even knew each other before this farm.  I’m about to break people down to in general categories.  It does them a disservice a individuals- I understand this- but is useful for painting a very broad picture.

  • There are a couple bay area (San Francisco and Oakland) people here- one bi gal who is a massage therapist/dula, and only eats “whole” foods whenever possible, and one guy who is gay and very quiet (he’s gone now to another island) and vegetarian
  • Two Canadian gals from Ontario, and two from Montreal.  Two are gone.  Of those that remain, one only eats whole, vegan foods and is incredibly fit, and the other is a massage therapist/naturopath who remains mostly vegetarian.
  • A girl from Chapel Hill who is a massage therapist.
  • A gay guy from NYC who likes to spend his summers as a drag queen.
  • A couple people who were leaving just as I was coming in were from Portland.

I’m an outlier.  Even as a somewhat progressive atheist who has actively campaigned for gay rights, I’m an outlier.  I’m not just an outlier, but much of what I value is seen as negative, destructive, or something that needs “fixing.”

Working construction in Texas means busting ass with a number of good ‘ol boys, sharing a sort of fraternal camaraderie, and shooting the shit about life.  Something as simple as walking around in Texas means occasionally holding the door open for a lady, and nodding your head and responding with a “ma’am” when she flashes you a big smile, full of genuine gratitude, and thanks you for it, even though she expected it the whole time.

That sort of thing doesn’t really happen here.  I feel very neutered in my ability to express myself, in both my actions and my words.

Being a Texan means being a part of that, and so much more.  It’s a large part of my identity, and I’m proud of that.  It’s rough not being able to share it.

On a related note, a link to a beautiful song- by a Texas band- that resonates pretty deeply with me:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj7Zft8aiRc

Game on

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I haven’t slept a wink tonight and had about 2 hours last night. The excitement and the packing and the preparing and the saying goodbye to friends (I have incredible friends!) have been keeping me pretty busy.  I’m going to sleep like a baby on the plane.

In an hour and a half I leave for the airport.  Preparing for this trip hasn’t just been packing my carry-on and my backpack- it’s been packing up the rest of my life too.  While I don’t know what this trip has in store for me, I do know what happens when I get back home.

I have less than a week after my return before I leave my beloved Texas to give California a shot.  While this is exciting news, it’s surreal leaving home knowing that returning home means that I’ll be leaving home again.

While I’d like to think that life is always one great big adventure, I feel that I’m facing more opportunities and challenges than I ever have before.  God knows that I’ve been learning tons about both myself and the world around me in the last couple of weeks! I’m both excited and a little nervous, but I’m ready to bring it.

Game on!

P.S. I’ve just started playing around with my iPhone camera.  I’ll be posting pictures routinely (hopefully daily) and would love hear yall’s input and advice.  I’m very much new to this.

Making Willpower in to a Habit

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Making Willpower in to a Habit

I often find myself at the bookstore when I’m in between appointments without enough time to go home or without another errand to accomplish. Recently I stopped by Barnes and Noble and picked up a few books to read. The information that I found in one has made a huge difference for me already. The book is “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg.

Covered in this wonderful book is making willpower in to a habit. This sounded a little silly to me at first, but upon further reading it seemed viable. I’ve been implementing it for a couple of weeks now, and the results have been astounding. The diversity of applications makes this even more appealing. I’ve used it for both thought process and physical activities, and it has worked wonders, especially for destructive thought processes that I’ve struggled with for well over a year now.

Duhigg cites a Scottish study involving older patients recovering from hip or knee surgery. The physical rehab necessary is difficult and painful, and many people forgo it entirely because they simply don’t have the willpower to push through. In the experiment, a control group was given a pamphlet detailing their rehab schedule. The experimental group was given this same booklet, but in the back were thirteen additional pages, one for each week, with blank spaces and instructions: “My goals for this week are __________ ? Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to go for a walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk.”

The results? “The patients who had written plans in their booklets had started walking almost twice as fast as the ones who had not. They had started getting in and out of their chairs, unassisted, almost three times as fast. They were putting on their shoes, doing the laundry, and making themselves meals quicker than the patients who hadn’t scribbled out goals ahead of time.”

Upon examining the written plans, it was found that not only were they detailed, but they covered how the individual planned on the dealing with their “inflection points.” One example was a patient, knowing that he would be in agonizing pain any time that he went to stand up to go to the bathroom, who wrote in his plan that he would automatically and always take his first step, removing his immediate access to his seat, and therefor removing the temptation to sit back down.

It was also found that there was often reward at the end of the difficult task, providing encouragement to repeat it. In the case of the man previously mentioned, he kept a bowl of M&Ms at the bathroom door, and allowed himself one on the way in, and one of the way out. Rewards are necessary to develop a habit. According to Duhigg, “Our brains are wired to take patterns with clear rewards, and make them into automatic reactions.” Without providing yourself a reward, you will never be able to develop of habit- the task will remain an act of sheer willpower. We all know how well that works out over the long haul.

So, how do we implement this in to our daily lives?

  1. Write it down. Be detailed in your plan of action.
  2. Identify inflection points and write out how you’ll deal with them. Figure out what screws you up, and write out how you’ll deal with it. I’ve found that the plan for dealing with it doesn’t have to be complicated. The biggest key for me was being able to recognize an inflection point, and redirect my thoughts and actions toward my plan of attack.
  3. Reward yourself. This doesn’t have to be a huge reward. Sometimes huge rewards are just as destructive as the habit you’re trying to stop, like allowing yourself to binge as a reward for not skipping a workout. What’s been most helpful to me is focusing on the reward, telling myself that it’s a great reward, and then taking pride in having earned and achieved the reward. It’s amazing how powerful a single M&M can be when you take the time to think of it not as an M&M, but a trophy of your conquest, and a symbol of the hard work that you’ve put in to becoming a more complete person.

In my life, this has been most useful in helping me to deal with destructive thought processes. They used to eat at me daily, destroying my self esteem, getting the best of me for at least half an hour a day, and nagging at me throughout much of the rest of it. I often wound up distracted enough to forget about them for extended periods of time, but no matter how much I tried, they always returned. They routinely struck me in the mornings, right as I woke up, when I was too groggy to focus and force myself out of it. It wasn’t a pleasant way to wake up.

I went ahead and took the book’s advice to heart, and I’ve been doing pretty damn well so far. I wrote down my plan for thinking for positively, detailing the thought processes that I would avoid, and writing out the ones that I’d like to employ more often. I then identified my most common inflection points (mornings and rough work days) and what I’d do when the negative thoughts hit.

My method is simple. If I’m in bed, I sit up first, but otherwise this is how I deal with it anywhere. I identify it for what it is, and tell myself that I won’t be thinking that way. The complete thought goes like this: “A negative thought process is occurring again. I need to stop, and I will stop.” I then let the thought become like a balloon in my head, and “let go” of it, watching it float away, shrinking in the distance (a little trick of mindfulness meditation).

I immediately reward myself after stopping the negativity. This works in two ways: number one, it changes my focus to something positive, helping keep negative thoughts away; number two, it encourages me to keep going. My reward is the happiness that comes with overcoming this obstacle, and taking pride in myself for facing it, instead of cowering and letting it have its way. I bask in the warmth this achievement, and it’s better than any physical reward I’ve come across.

I’ve only been overcome once since starting this, and I was much quicker to regain my footing. I learned from my mistake and wrote down how I’d deal with the situation next time I face it. Rather than being ashamed of myself for the shortcoming, I’m confident that I’ll emerge victorious the next time we face each other, and I can’t begin to explain to yall how much this means to me. I hope any of you who’ve ever struggled with anything similar give this a shot. It’s worth it.

Here’s a link to where I picked up my quotes from: http://personalmba.com/power-of-habit-charles-duhigg/ .

For further reading, go ahead and pick up the book. Business, personal, you name it, there’s some way that this can be applied. Additionally, this is only a single point discussed in the book. There’s so much more to be found in it.

If yall have any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll respond ASAP. I’d other love to hear if any of yall have any tough habits or tricks for dealing with them.

Until next time.

-NSTB

And So It Begins

And so it begins.Image

It’s been a while since I last posted. That’s mostly because my life took a very interesting turn recently. Through rather serendipitous circumstances, I met a of couple of couch surfers who are long term, low cost travelers a few weeks ago, and they introduced me to WWOOFing (I’ll explain in another post to come shortly). We got to talk of travel, and I heard all of these incredible stories, and tips, and ideas for how to live the impossible dream that they were living themselves. After a couple of hours of good times, and seeing my interest, I was urged by one to say “Fuck it!” and get going immediately to see the world. I told him that I’d think about it, and we went our separate ways. While I consider myself to be spontaneous, and flexibility is one of greatest strengths (born out of necessity to compensate for several weaknesses) I wasn’t quite ready to drop the ‘ol F-bomb and dive head first in to the unknown.

Apparently life wasn’t having any of my shit, and decided to say “Fuck it!” for me.

Put simply, I lost my job just over a week ago. The company executives took the time to sit me down and explain the situation, and honestly, I can’t fault them for it. I was always temporary, with plans to leave Texas for California this summer as I begin pursuing my education, and my dream of Berkeley’s Haas school of business. After several projects were delayed, layoffs became unavoidable. We were lucky to have a crack team where I worked, and so any layoffs presented a real loss of talent. The difference between myself and the guy who still has a job is that I wasn’t a long termer, and it would be a crime to lay off a company man for someone who is going to be leaving shortly. As I said, I can’t fault them. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting though.

I’m a firm believer that every challenge presents an opportunity, and that a great challenge presents an even greater opportunity. It didn’t take much brainpower to see the potential here. I began doing tons of research, reading blogs, talking to people with experience, and then researching some more. My credit score is now better than it’s ever been, I have plane tickets to both Hawaii and Barcelona, the bare minimum essentials in gear, and three months of travel ahead of me. The future is looking bright!

If yall have any inspiration to share, any comments on making it through rough times, or tips of backpacking, I’d love to hear them!

-NSTB

Making Molehills out of Mountains (or Doing the Reverse Mushu)

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Things add up very quickly in life.  Deadlines loom, obligations pressure, to-do items stack, and somehow in the middle of all of this we want to fit in time to achieve something for ourselves.  In the face of everything else we face in life, something as simple as losing 5 pounds, or finishing that novel you start months ago can start to seem like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon.

The good news for us is that the tasks that we set out to do are not nearly as difficult as they seem.  Many people, trying to provide some sort of motivation, talk about the incredible capacity for change and achievement in an individual.  That’s all well and good to certain extent.  The human body is an absolute marvel, and the things that some people have accomplished are astounding.  Having said that, I don’t believe that the dragons that most of us face require that sort of capacity for achievement, or that the dragons we face are dragons at all.  So many “incredible” things are within arms reach if we just realize that instead of a fire breathing monster, we’re looking at a lizard that we’ve built up in our heads.

The process of clearing the smoke and seeing the lizard you face is a surprisingly easy one.  It takes a piece of paper, a pen, and a few simple steps.

  1. At the top of your paper, write down a goal of yours.  In my case, it’s becoming capable of holding a conversation in Spanish in the next two months.
  2. Break down your dragon in to smaller parts.  A bit of time on google doesn’t hurt here, but don’t spend more than a couple minutes.  What does it take to speak a language?  Words!  Yes, words!  I’m going to need to learn the vocabulary of the language.  I also need to learn what to do with those words, so grammar is a must.  Beyond that, I need to speak it, so pronunciation and practice with implementation are necessary as well.  That’s pretty much it.
  3. Break it down further.  We’re making lizards in this step!  There are a lot of words in the Spanish language, so I need to make this more manageable.  How about the 100 most common words, 100 most common verbs that don’t fall in that category, and then the top 500 most common words once I’ve achieved those?  I now have smaller goals, and even a basic progression to look at.  Grammar is convenient because it comes in organized chunks anyway.
  4. Screw it- we’re going smaller!  Lets make this happen day by day, week by week.  For my example, I have a minimum of 200 words to learn in 8 weeks.  That comes down to 25 words per week, or 5 new words per day.  Easy!  Grammar and speaking?  I discovered Pimsleur some time ago, and it does a fantastic job of covering both.  If I do one lesson on the drive to work, and repeat on the way back home, 5 days a week, I can knock out a very large portion of their very effective Spanish lessons in 8 weeks.  I can also work on the verb conjugations, one tense per weeks in conjunction with the rest of the practice.
  5. Stick to it.

That’s it!

While the steps are fairly straight forward, and many people make it through the first four, many struggle with sticking to it. I’ll be covering a few strategies in the future to help, and what to do when they strategies fail.

Do yall have any experience with challenges that seemed too big to handle, or strategies for dealing with them? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

-NSTB