Use Your Body to Hack Your Brain
July 18, 2014
Rough night last night with the baby; have been a zombie all day.
Can’t focus on any creative work… want to become one with the couch…
“No way in hell I’m going to the (climbing) gym.”
Know That feeling? Of course you do.
Luckily, I remembered a concept from Scott Adams’ Latest Book about tricking your brain into a new mood, and I thought I’d put it to the test.
Spoiler: It totally worked.
Your brain is basically just responding to everything that is thrown at it; fresh sensory input coming in, memories bubbling up with suggestions on your current situation, and — importantly — messages in the form of hormones of all kind released by your body.
Here’s the nifty part: it’s pretty easy to get your body to send different messages to your brain, tipping your mood in the right direction.
All you have to do, in fact, is force yourself to do 15 minutes of any kind of intense physical activity that you enjoy. A few minutes later your body will start releasing endorphins which your brain just loves… all of a sudden, your mood and energy improve.
Yes, you may still be tired after a while, but less than before — and your mental ability will definitely be elevated by a notch or two.
Note that this works even if you are in a grumpy mood while you do it (I proved that today). It also works even if you are aware that you are trying to trick yourself… The endorphins are just as real to your brain either way.
Feeling down, tired, or frustrated? 15 minutes of fun exertion and you’ve flooded your brain with happy juice. Makes the rest of your day much easier. 🙂
BTW: The book I mentioned above, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” is actually one of the most useful books I’ve read in at least a year. Scott has a very engineering-minded approach to his life, and he lays out some very compelling steps you can steal and apply to make your life easier (and presumably more successful, if that’s something you want).
I plan to write about this book more in the near future, as soon as my neighbor returns my copy! In the meantime, though, I guarantee that if you give this a read you’ll find it worth your while.
Check it out!
(Disclosure: Affiliate link… but I don’t use affiliate links unless I completely believe in what I’m pointing you towards!)
July Experiment: Low Information Diet
July 2, 2014
I have an addiction: I’m interested in about a million topics, and I could spend all day just reading about new technology, philosophical ideas, business, even history. New ideas are like crack to me. It’s a sickness.
When the kids are in bed and the wife flips on the TV, I dive into a book or — more and more frequently — I scroll through headlines in my favorite RSS reader (Feedly). If I have a few minutes to kill and I can’t be productive, it’s Feedly to the rescue again.
Basically I just point a firehose of information at myself, and continuously find interesting ideas to play with.
Why is This a Problem?
On the surface it’s pretty harmless… but if I’m to be completely honest most of what I read — while interesting — is completely un-actionable. I’m entertaining myself, but not improving, not building, not achieving. And I want more from life than to be entertained.
A Book to the Rescue!
I was knocked upside the head about this while (re)reading The 4-Hour Workweek. If you’ve never checked it out I guarantee it is completely worth your time… Tim shares ideas that can actually make your life more fulfilling — even if you have no interest in the lifestyle he preaches.
Here’s a gem from the book:
“Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world are convinced that they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming. It is easier to raise $1,000,000 than it is $100,000.”
I can attest to the fundraising from personal experience. It also feels pretty good to think that aiming high is not crazy, in fact it may be the only sane thing to do!
You have perhaps 16,000 days Left…
One of the basic tenets of Tim Ferriss’s work system is to optimize everything for time, so that you can spend your days doing whatever moves you. It’s the 80/20 rule applied more ruthlessly than you dared in the past… but dammit he makes some good points.
Time. It’s the one thing you can’t make more of.
With so many things on my must-do list (including building a new business — more on that soon), there are just more awesome things to do than skimming the headlines of what others are doing in the world.
So here’s the experiment for the rest of July (I just decided this today):
- Feedly is not to be opened. Period.
- Unsubscribed from the ~10 emails I get regularly.
- Stack of magazines: recycled.
- Newspaper: just the Sunday crossword and the comics.
- I already don’t watch TV news, so that’s easy.
- Facebook, Twitter, etc: No browsing (I pretty much don’t, already).
- Long-form reading is still OK. (Carefully selected books, of course!)
- Shift RSS time over to making progress on building a business and writing more.
- See if my head feels any clearer, if my daughter notices me being less distracted, and if I miss the firehose.
- After a month off, I expect to reconnect with a much more curated list of information sources.
While I love reading and learning, I suspect that at times I use this information firehose as an escape, and as an excuse to avoid “real work”. Thanks Tim for reminding me that you can build whatever life you want, but it won’t happen if you don’t take action.
Do you have the same reading addiction? Why not join me in a Low-Information July!
Here’s that book again… if you’re ready to work on your own dream life you should give it a read.
Need anything from Amazon? Buy through this link and you will support my blog. Sincere thanks!
May Experiment Recap (Ping Friends)
June 25, 2014
Just a quickie to get back into the swing of writing publicly again… sometimes you just need to break the silence even if it’s dumb, and then you can have a real conversation. Know what I mean?
The May experiment this year was to reach out to a friend or colleague every weekday. How’d it go?
Seriously… no way to even finesse this one.
I did ping a couple of friends that I hadn’t talked to in a while, but beyond that I just did not stick to the plan. I’m not entirely sure why, either.
Sure, it felt awkward to say “hey we haven’t talked in forever but let’s chat!” but I’ve worked with awkward before.
Yes, it was a rough month for other reasons, but still… I’ve climbed mountains, dammit.
For some reason this one just didn’t click, and after about two weeks I gave myself the rest of the month off. Perhaps it’s something I’ll revisit in a future month; maybe I’ll decide to work it into my schedule next time in another way (I’m thinking that a new Sunday habit would work well).
I suspect that when I’m stressed my introvert pattern becomes stronger than normal. Something to be aware of next time; when you’re aware of the tricks your mind is playing on you it’s generally possible to throw a head-fake and nudge your mind in the right direction.
On the Plus Side
My June experiment, about getting to inbox zero, is going great!
More on that soon… I have a few tips that you can use, and believe me that inbox zero feels fantastic.
Experiment Wrap-up: Water-only April
April 30, 2014
For all three of you keeping score at home, my April experiment was to drink nothing* but water — with a couple of cheat allowances built in.
Was it a success? Hells yes.
Does that mean I didn’t sneak in a couple of extra cheats over the course of the month? Actually yes I did — but that doesn’t make the experiment a failure… in fact in this case those cheats were essential to the learning I hoped to gain from this experiment.
To recap, I wanted to find out:
- Is it hard to give these up for a month? If so that’s worth some serious thought.
- How does it affect my energy levels — morning, afternoon, evenings?
- Am I more productive? Less? Both, at times?
- Any effect on my waistline?
So What Did We Learn?
Was it hard: easier than I expected.
It’s so much better to try on a change for a month than it is to attempt to alter your life FOREVER with a new year’s resolution… c’mon, you can do anything for a few weeks, right?
In addition, I employed the mind hack of removing choice by going with “water only” rather than specifically saying “no caffeine or alcohol”. Even though in my life these two mean the same thing, it put liquids into the category of “don’t have to think about it for even a second”. If instead I let myself debate several times a day whether to have water, juice, caffeine-free soda OH MAN I REALLY WANT A DIET DEW — see how that happens? When you put it into the don’t-think-about-it category instead, it’s way easier to stick to a new habit. I’ll write more about that trick soon because it’s a powerful way to hack your life.
Energy: bit less afternoon lag, but not a world of difference. On one of my cheat days, though, I had a large soda at lunch time. I’ve read that caffeine leaves your body almost entirely within 8 hours, but that night was NOT a good one for sleeping. YMMV, of course; but through careful observation this month I’ve realized that I’m way more sensitive to caffeine than I had thought. If I had to guess, your sleep may be more affected by it than you think. Worth experimenting, I’d say.
Productivity: not much change, actually. I am a bit surprised by this; thought I would be able to squeeze in a couple extra hours of creative work this way, but it turns out that — currently — external forces are much more of a limit than my own energy levels. I only manage to get about 2 productive hours in a day right now, which is truly disheartening.
Waistline: yes, I think. I did just hit 161 lbs which is a total loss of just over 10% from my recent high of 180. But there are a lot of factors at play there; so I credit not-drinking (and the accompanying reduction in late night snacking) with perhaps 50% of the credit.
As I said above, the experiment was a smashing success. I learned great stuff about myself, and more importantly I changed my internal default. Defaults are a huge thing. Perhaps the single most important life hack there is… which reminds me that I really must write about defaults at length soon.
Before, my default was to indulge in caffeine and alcohol more or less at random. If the mood struck and I didn’t feel too bad about it (wow; 2pm I really can’t risk another soda… or wow that’s been several days in a row maybe not today) I would fill and empty my glass with abandon.
Now my default is to just reach for water. There are definitely times where I go for something stronger in either direction — but it will be a conscious choice and thus easier to indulge with balance.
If you’ve read this far, thanks! What I would love for you to do, though, is to give this a try… pick something that you want to drop or add, and give yourself a month to try it on for size. Decide up front what cheats you will allow (I’d recommend giving yourself one day off per week, say on Saturdays, as a mental edge.) and really commit to it.
Don’t tell yourself “I can’t do this thing I want to do”… just smile and say “I’m not doing that this month” and see how much easier it is to demote that habit from a controlling force to a minor nag. After the month is up, if you decide to stick with it wholesale, fantastic! If you choose, thoughtfully, to go back to your prior habits, fine. But like me you may end up going for something in the middle; turning it back into an occasional treat rather than a salve… and no better way than to put it out in the cold for a month then welcome it back in on your own terms.
Now where’s that rum?
* Up front, I decided that if I was at a social event with drinking I’d have one. That happened a couple of times, and I found it very easy to stick with just one. I also specified that I might have soda water if desperate for something fizzy; that didn’t happen, but I did have a couple of sodas this month in times of “need some bubbles” which lead to increased learning — so not a bad thing, from an experimental point of view. On the “bad” side, I have had a few nightcaps in the past two weeks in moments of stress. While not what I was originally shooting for, it was still useful to see how going from almost-every-night to nothing to on-occasion worked in practice; would I slide down the proverbial slippery slope back to almost-every-night? Happily, the answer is no.
April Experiment: Water
April 7, 2014
Not “mind like water“; this month I’m re-discovering how good plain old water can be.
First, though, a quick rundown of the March anti-experiment since I didn’t actually write about it at all yet… which was caused by:
The February That Kicked my Ass
Between the broken hand, Maddie’s issues, and a couple of other problems I coasted into March without much energy to try something new. I ended up basically saying: let’s take a month off. Totally. No experiment, no working on myself, and while we’re at it let’s kind of slack off on my other recent experiments.
An anti-experiment month, in a way: let’s see what happens if I don’t even try to care.
Poor diet, no exercise, and most importantly the lack of a positive focus made it a very low month: low productivity, low energy, low emotions.
Result of March anti-experiment: Let’s never do that again! Having a particular goal to work towards — and see progress towards — yields a domino-effect of positive action touching all aspects of life. Makes it easier to carry through with preexisting commitments, makes it easier to find the good in every day. I have re-started my recent mindfulness, diet, and writing habits and feel better already.
April Experiment: Water Only* (to drink)
I’ve been doing this since April 1st, actually. Occasionally I have started an experiment on the first Monday instead of the first of the month; but I’m realizing that it works much better for me to prepare ahead of time and actually start on the first. Do what works best for you.
I had fallen into a daily pattern of TeaTeaTeaTeaWaterWaterWaterRum/Beer/Wine… Copious amounts of unsweet tea or Diet Dew to power through the morning, switch to water after lunch to hopefully not screw up my sleep that night (I’m sensitive to caffeine), and then switching over to tasty adult beverages when I got to the point in the evening where I didn’t feel the need to be productive anymore. Not every night, but frankly most nights.
But why experiment with changing this?
Because this was not a pattern I decided to adopt. It just sort of snuck up on me over a few years… kind of like the time my left pinkie went totally numb for a few weeks.
The Pinky that Wasn’t There
My work and some of my play has always involved many hours at the keyboard. A few years ago I became aware that my left pinky (and part of my left ring finger) were moderately numb and tingly pretty much all the time. Huh.
Had that come one suddenly, it would have grabbed my full and undivided attention — what the hell happened to my finger??!?!?!!!? But just like the apocryphal frog in boiling water this one came on slowly enough that I mostly ignored it… until I happened to look closely and realized how absurd it was to walk around with a fully numb pinky. Finally it grabbed my attention and I easily fixed it. (Switched to a split keyboard. Much better.)
Just like the pinky, this caffeine/alcohol habit crept into my life without any real conscious thought. So is it really the best pattern for me? Unlikely.
Sometimes You Have to Hit Reset
I could certainly have just decided to scale back one or the other of these minor drugs, but sometimes it’s better to start with a clean slate and then introduce things thoughtfully and see what really works for me. Kind of like what Apple did with iOS7. So since 4/1 I’ve been drinking water only, 24/7. I’ll certainly add things back in later, but on my terms, and consciously.
Besides the clean slate, I want to find out:
- Is it hard to give these up for a month? If so that’s worth some serious thought.
- How does it affect my energy levels — morning, afternoon, evenings?
- Am I more productive? Less? Both, at times?
- Any effect on my waistline?
So far, it hasn’t been very hard at all, which is reassuring. Too soon to tell on the rest.
This isn’t a do-or-die thing. If I’m at a social event with beer/wine, I will have just one. That happened once already. If I decide I absolutely need something fizzy, I will fire up the soda stream. That hasn’t happened yet. It’s important to decide your dos and don’t in advance though, or there is a slippery slope just a’waiting.
The Benefits of a “Get Better” Mindset
February 15, 2014
99u.com has a great video up showing, with data, the many benefits from the mindset of continuous improvement. It’s 25 minutes, but will feel like 10… Heidi Grant is a great speaker.
tl;dw: measuring against your past self instead of others and phrasing goals, plans, etc as “let’s see if I can get a little better every time” will result in:
- increased interest and enjoyment,
- deeper thinking,
- more creativity,
- increased persistence, and
- superior performance.
(And let’s face it, getting better is just plain fun!)
Let’s see if embedding works:
In case the embed doesn’t work for you, watch it on their site here.
3 Great Reads from 2013
January 20, 2014
Quick thought tonight… just wanted to share three of the blogs/posts I came across in 2013 that might change your life.
1) Mr. Money Mustache
No, I’m not into mustaches, and yes, it’s occasionally a bit over-the-top. Still, face-punching aside, he often hits a false assumption square on the head… there are articles in here that can completely change your relationship with money.
Realizing that freedom (from money worries) is truly attainable, and within a decade if you decide that’s what you want, is an empowering feeling.
More than that, though, it’s about questioning the “normal” that you see around you every day. Sure, everyone works 50+ hours a week and buys a SUV and doesn’t have any time for their passions and waits for retirement at 65… but today (in America especially) you actually have very different options. If you dare.
What if you chose to create the life you really want, rather than pursue what you think is “normal”?
2) Jim Collins “advice for my daughter post”
Lots of people talk about advice (financial and otherwise) in broad and hand-wavy terms. Sure, spend less than you earn makes sense. Sure, going with low-fee funds seems to make sense… but there are so many little details to wade through; too much to parse, sometimes,
In this one short read Jim lays out nine simple tactics that, if followed, will virtually ensure that you become financially secure and thus able to do whatever it is that you decide is worth dedicating your life to.
It’s specific, and simple, but it’s sound. If I had read this post 10 years ago, I would be fully retired right now. Wow.
3) Raptitude, most anything in the “essentials” column.
One more blog about pulling away the false reality that has been pulled in front of your eyes… his greatest hits column has a few gems (that last one should be taken with a grain of salt; he’s not being literal about the “vast conspiracy thing”) but to be honest, most of what David shares here is worth the time.
Read it, close your eyes, and tilt your head back… breathe in an out deeply a few times and just savor the little moment of humanity he’s pointing out. Too often we go through our lives and miss all the living… his is a blog about experiencing this amazing world again.
2013 Experiment: Primal/Paleo(ish) Eating
January 5, 2014
Quick thought tonight… just wanted to share an example of the kind of monthly experiments I’m talking about.
Last year around July, I felt the need to try a “reboot” of sorts. I buzzed my hair, started running, made some changes to my spending patterns, tried to cut way down on my evening beverages, and started eating more or less “Paleo / Primal”. All at once. Just like that.
What Didn’t Work
Changing lots of things at once… unless you are hitting bottom, this is a recipe for disaster — which, frankly, is why most New Years Resolutions fall apart around January 10th.
The “fresh new start” was invigorating, but when one of my new habits started wobbling, the rest were put in peril as well.
What Did Work
The hair, actually, helped me stick to a couple of my new experimental habits.
Every time I started to feel stressed out and tempted to go back to the cloud I was previously under, I would rub my head, take a deep breath, and look up and smile. Just having that one very real and tactile reminder of my fresh start was enough to lift my mood… and it did indeed help me stay the course on some of these spontaneous initiatives.
There is power in habits and triggers… set yourself up for success with any new challenge by setting up a trigger that reminds you of what you are hoping to achieve with your new direction… or if not that, set up a trigger that reminds you to take a deep breath and smile a few times a day.
You will be amazed at how much of a difference a deep breath can make!
Paleo / Primal
This will become at least post of it’s own, but I want to share just how effective this has been for me. Even though I only stick 75% to the strict letter of these regimens, I’ve dropped significant weight and feel better all over.
If you struggle with weight, energy, or are hungry all of the time — and if you are currently on the “OMG MUST AVOID FAT” train — I beseech you to give it a try. Just take a month and cut as much sugar (including bread) out of your diet as you can, and see how it feels.
Give it a month — you won’t regret it.
Preview: Monthly Experiments
January 4, 2014
I documented this briefly on my old blog, but I want to bring the conversation here…
I’m a huge fan of Monthly Experiments.
Try on a habit for one month, like you are taking a new outfit for a thorough test-wear… try it on, live with it for long enough to understand how it fits (or doesn’t) into what you want your life to be.
At the end of the month, decide whether to keep the new habit, tweak it, or let it go. With just a little experiment every month you can create an entirely new life by the end of the year. Groovy.
I can’t recall exactly where I picked up this idea; but I’m all about borrowing what resonates and learning from greatness. I do recall it was from a blogger talking about his “12 for 2012” around January 2012, and the fine folks at Zen Habits do a good job of it as well. Since then I’ve tried it out sporadically (more on that later)… this time it’s on.
How it Works
To make this really change your reality requires a bit more than the monthly equivalent of a new year’s resolution.
These are experiments.
First, you need to have an idea of what you hope to accomplish… just trying to see what it feels like? Wonder whether you can do it for a whole month? Wonder if just doing this for a month will have some external effect Zen Archery style?
All of these are valid… just know what you want to experience, so that by the end of the month you can learn and grow.
These experiments don’t have to be “every day”, but you do need to be specific about what you are setting out for yourself. Note: avoid vague things like “3 times per week” — if that’s the idea, pick a schedule: I will exercise on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (for instance). It’s far too easy to let things slip to “tomorrow” when you are not specific on the front end.
Commit in public, if at all possible. State exactly what you plan to do, and how people can check up on you… and then hold yourself responsible for reporting on the results, whatever happens.
IF you bail partway through the month, that does not equate to failure — but reflect on why you dropped that month’s experiment.
Was is just not for you? Truly? Then do you know yourself a bit better now? Great now what’s next?
Was it just too hard? Why? Almost anything is possible if it is important enough… so have you learned something about your real priorities?
And finally, this is not supposed to be about trying to make yourself into something you think you’re supposed to be.
This is about learning how to become your true self, even if you don’t know exactly what that is right now. If after a month something does not ring true, then feel happy about setting it aside and saying “I am not a runner.” It’s also about learning to interpret the inner voices properly… if something keeps popping into your head, there is a reason for that — you will be more content when you find that reason.
My 12 for 2014
I have the beginnings of a list worked out… I only have to lay down the tracks one month ahead of the train, so this list will grow based on my first few experiments. Some may also move months as life dictates. In any case, here’s what I have so far:
Jan – Write every day (for public consumption)
Feb – Dedicate 3 hours/week to connecting with friends
Mar – Draw Every Day (and post online)
Apr – Short daily meditation
May – No TV or “random web reading” of any kind
Incomplete, I know… actually I have dozens I want to try out, and the hard part will be waiting until (for example) April to try out daily meditation… Still, I know it’s best to start with one and build momentum month on month.
So to be specific, I have 4 places at the moment for my daily writing to emerge. This is great for me, actually, as it lets me experiment with different styles throughout the week.
Here’s my current writing plan:
- Personal growth experiments, inspirational ideas I come across, experiments in work-life balance, and projects I undertake (including thinking about a lifestyle business) will live here.
- Everything I learn about startups as I try to help build Coursefork (my friend Brian‘s company) will be shared at SteveReaser.com.
- My work writing will appear on the (soon to be renamed) Coursefork blog; these will be me in a jacket and tie, but still very much me.
- Personal bits and pieces that don’t fit into one of those broad themes will continue to land on screaser.blogspot.com, as I need to get them out of my head.
The reason this is so exciting to me is that it is, at it’s core, about creating the life that you want. Monthly Experiments are a great way to move, one step at a time, from the life that landed on you to a life you will be ecstatic leading.
Life has a way of being amazing when you focus on what you love.