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Archive for the ‘Habits’ tag

The Power of Nuts, Routine, and Decluttering (Sunday Reads #14)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.  If you’re receiving this in your email inbox, spread the love and forward it to a friend.

Prelude: Two weeks ago I participated in the StrongFirst Level 1 Kettlebell Certification event.  It was three full days of learning, training, coaching, and being put to the test.  While I was pretty nervous going in, it turned out to be an incredibly rewarding experience – even the day of testing, which included a brutal 5-minute timed snatch test (100 overhead snatches with a 24kg kettlebell in 5 minutes).  It took me almost a full week to start training again – and when I did, it was with a newfound appreciation for the power of the kettlebell.  I’m now part of the StrongFirst family as a certified instructor and will start training for Level 2 later this year.

strongfirst-cert

At some point, I will likely write about my training protocol over the long months of preparation, along with some of the strange things I did that I found to work… including “straw breathing”, voodoo flossing, and regularly using a micropedi on my callused hands.  But that’ll have to wait.  For now, onto the links!

Nuts are a nutritional powerhouse according to a study conducted among more than 200,000 men and women in the Southern United States and Shanghai, finding that the more nuts people consumed, the lower their death rates from all causes.

In Why Exercising is a Higher Priority Than My Career, the author makes the case.  In my own life I’ve found that exercising is my master habit – it improves my mood, my energy levels, my work output, my relationships, and increases my confidence.  While I occasionally have to sacrifice it for work, I don’t let this itself become a habit that lasts more than several days.  Work will always fill the time you give it, so as the author says, “exercise must come first, or it’s unlikely to happen at all.”

Find focus with just 18 minutes each day according to Harvard Business Review writer and published author Peter Bregman.  This simple program takes 5 minutes in the morning, 1 minute each hour, and 5 minutes each evening.

Scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus or process information.  This is why I quickly straighten up my office at the end of each day.

Why you need the combination of grit, routine, and vision to live life as an adventure.  You are what you do most of the time, not some of the time.  The author references a few apps that may help you, and being the app geek that I am I’m listing them here: Way of Life, Full, and Balanced.

I also talked about a fun new meditation app a few weeks back (Buddhify).  And now that I’m regularly using Headspace, I can highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning how to meditate.  It’s fantastic.

Here’s a blog post on life that I really appreciated: The Days are Long but the Decades are Short.

If you’re not already subscribed to Refocuser updates, research shows you’ll be a much happier person just by reading more inspiring stuff.  Subscribe now.

Written by Mike Torres

May 9th, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Embrace Grit, Enjoy the Journey, and Always Be Reading (Sunday Reads #11)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.

Join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.  If you’re receiving this in your email inbox, spread the love and forward it to a friend.

Getting Creative Work Done

If you struggle to declutter your magazine pile, a technique called ABR – Always Be Reading may be for you.  As someone who spends many hours a week focused on helping people read more (with a Kindle preferably) this approach sounds interesting, and is actually pretty aligned with what I personally do.

Are you a manager?  Your late-night or very early-morning emails may be hurting your team.  Being always-on hurts team results in a big way.  I’ve been in the habit for years of delay-sending the email I write after 6:30pm on Friday or over the weekend until late Monday morning.

If you’d like to form successful habits, you need to know what motivates you.

A recent study showed that heavy cellphone users report higher anxiety levels and dissatisfaction with life than their peers who use their phones less often – and another showed a correlation between stress levels and the barrage of alerts and notifications.  This app automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone or iPad each day and helps you set limits.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 22nd, 2015 at 8:47 pm

Habit Triggers, Krill Oil, and Eliminating Neck Pain (Sunday Reads #9)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.  If you’re receiving this in your email inbox, spread the love and forward it to a friend.

On Work/Life Balance, Anxiety, and Habits

A new study in the Journal of Marketing Research: “Emotions such as guilt about where time is being spent or fear over loss of income both generate stress, and make a person feel more pressed for time than they actually are.”  I’ve always been of the opinion that work/life balance and “lack of time” isn’t the problem, it’s the underlying feeling of trading off the things that matter most to you. Missing your daughter’s piano performance for a mind-numbing meeting evokes feelings of guilt and resentment regardless of how much time you’ve spent at work or with family.  So what do you do?  One tip from the study is to pause to breathe more often.

Being mindful about anxiety can help to reduce it.  “The solution isn’t identifying why you’re anxious in the first place (though that knowledge has its place), but recognizing the signs of anxiety before nervousness, panic and rapid breathing hijack your emotional wellness.”

Using quotations from others can help improve your self-talk.  For almost 15 years now, I’ve been working on my own self-talk as I realize how important it is to overall well-being.  Here’s one of my favorites from this list:

The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join in the dance. —Alan Watts

Great post by James Clear on habit triggers, something I’m a big proponent of.  Using Time and Location triggers have been instrumental in a number of my own personal habits, including a new one to “do at least 10 minutes of mobility work every day” thanks to Kelly Starrett’s new book, Ready to Run.

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Written by Mike Torres

February 28th, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Your Microbiome, Bone Broth, and Fancy New Fitness Gadgets (Sunday Reads #2)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads #2 on Refocuser, a collection of my favorite weekly links from around the web spanning topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Speaking of which, join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.

On Moving, Eating, and Sleeping

The healthy human microbiome is the new frontier.  All the more reason why I’m surprised I didn’t know about uBiome (10% off with that link!) – it’s similar in spirit to WellnessFX and 23andMe.  They send you a sample kit for only $89 (!) so you can learn more about your body’s own bacteria in an effort to improve your overall health.  Don’t need to twist my arm to do this – I’m in!  We’re super early in this citizen science movement but I love it.  You can also learn more on Fast Company.

Mark Sisson challenges some of our common misconceptions when it comes to calories (part 1part 2).

How does exercise really affect our brains and how does it really make us happier?  Fast Company set out to understand the science.  Turns out addiction to exercise isn’t a crazy concept since BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) and those ever-popular endorphins have the same characteristics as nicotine, heroin, or morphine.  Big takeaway: Daily exercise of just 20 minutes is all it takes.

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Written by Mike Torres

January 10th, 2015 at 3:23 pm

How to Become a Morning Person

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Photo by Christopher S Penn

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t been a morning person, preferring to stay up late over prying my heavy head off the pillow in the cold morning.  I’ve been a night owl most of my life, with some of my best work and inspired thought happening after 10pm.  Throughout the years, I’ve been following the growing body of research that points to night owlish (or ‘larkish’) as a genetic trait: there’s apparently a specific genetic variant that can indicate whether someone is a night owl, a lark, or somewhere in between the two.  Unfortunately this indicator wasn’t included in my 23andMe genetic profile a few years ago so I’m not sure where I fall on the continuum.

But even if I knew where my genes wanted me to be, there isn’t much I (or most of us) can do about societal, professional, or family pressure to wake up early.  Every single day, one of our kids wakes up at or before 6:30am.  At least 3 or 4 mornings per week I need to be out the door by 7:20am for school drop-off prior to a can’t-miss 8am meeting.  And when I get home at night, by the time I’ve eaten dinner, cleaned up afterwards, spent time with my family, and put the kids to bed, it’s already after 9pm.  So in order to do anything beyond “the basics” in life – including strength training, meditation, writing, extra work, or anything else – I have a simple choice: I either do it late at night and suffer the next morning, or I get up 30-60 minutes earlier.  I choose not to suffer.

Now, for a night owl, the thought of waking up earlier than 6:30am is anathema.  But for the last several months I’ve been doing it, and not only has it gotten easier, but I’ve ‘dialed it in’ to be a habit that I feel has dramatically improved my overall well-being, productivity at work, and presence at home.  These days I’m up at 5:45am to drink a cup of loose-leaf green tea and get a focused kettlebell or bodyweight workout in – or some dedicated writing – before my kids wake up and the house starts buzzing.

I’d be lying if I said the transition was all kittens and rainbows.  It was actually quite hard, and is still not without its challenges occasionally.  But I’m consistent about it and am determined to make it work.  Oddly, on the days I “sleep in” until 7 or 7:30am I don’t feel quite as right compared to those when I’ve gotten up and have broken a sweat before the sun rises.

Here are the ways I became a morning person and how you can too.

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Written by Mike Torres

January 26th, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Action Triggers: Getting Back on the Self-Control Wagon

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WagonWith every single bit of forward momentum, there will come a setback at some point.  It’s an inevitability that nothing good will continue uninterrupted forever.  This is the case with everything, human or otherwise, and is a fact of life that most unrealistic optimists don’t embrace early enough. 

If you think there won’t be speed bumps on the road ahead – if in fact, you don’t plan for them – when you hit one, the wheels are going to come flying off.  You’ll be done for.

When you look at self-control, or having the discipline to do the things you don’t necessarily want to do, there’s an expectation that it’s either on or off.  You’re either exercising self-control or you’re not; hot or cold, black or white, Reagan or Clinton.

The problem with this approach, as I wrote about in The Exercise and Science of Self-Control is that self-control is exhaustible.  Which means if you’re always on, you will eventually be off because your muscles, your self-control muscles, will become exhausted. 

If you know this, why not plan for it?

Lots of times these aren’t predictable dips in your self-control momentum.  They’re unplanned, unexpected, and unwelcome.  It’s the cinnamon roll instead of the gym, the Rocky marathon instead of Excel, the impromptu party instead of laundry and dishes, and so on.  It’s the feeling of failure – or just disappointment – that you weren’t able to hold true to the promise you made to yourself.

You spent all that time getting your self-control built up, just to have it come crashing down with a single mid-day cinnamon roll.

And if you’re anything like I am, once you break one or two promises to yourself, you might as well break them all.  For months on end.  It’s so easy… you’ve already proven that you’re not trustworthy.  That you aren’t strong enough to hold up your end of the bargain.  You’re weak and not worthy.  So why bother trying anymore?

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Written by Mike Torres

March 12th, 2011 at 10:45 am

The Exercise and Science of Self-Control

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Click for photoDo you frequently find yourself staying focused on a single task until it’s complete, or do you fall victim to the "I’ll do it later" or distraction mentality?  Are you able to walk past the table of donuts each time you see it, or do you give up and take a huge bite out of one?  If you’re someone who struggles with self-control, or the ability to regulate your actions even in the case of overwhelmingly appealing stimuli, you’re certainly not alone.  Most people the world over deal with the inability to self-supervise their actions on a consistent basis.  The exercise of self-control is hard.  Or at least people think it is.

It’s just so much easier to give in, isn’t it?  Hell, it takes real effort to fight the urge, especially if restraint isn’t something you’re used to.  More on that later, but first let’s take a look at exactly why self-control is important.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” — Jim Rohn

Self-control is the basis of all change; nothing can be transformed without first determining what needs to happen, and then being consistent and predictable in implementation over time.  It is, in fact, the most important skill to have when it comes to achievement.  Self-control is really the platform in which achievements are built upon.  It’s an essential ingredient in any high performer’s personality, just as impulsiveness and “action without consequence” is central to the self-defeatist.

If you want to start modeling success, the most important thing you can do is to start exhibiting self-control

Show me a successful person who doesn’t have a superhuman amount of mastery over his or her daily actions and I’ll show you someone who has benefited only from chance and circumstance – and that type of success is not repeatable or transferable.  Anyone can win the lottery or sign a book contract, but it takes true dedication to be able to maintain success over time.

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Written by Mike Torres

February 27th, 2011 at 4:10 pm

The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Tracking & Analysis

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‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.’ – Ben Franklin

Self-tracking – or personal analytics as some call it – is a relatively new phenomenon brought about by the ubiquity of cheap sensor technology and the internet.  It’s a space that’s just now coming into its own thanks to the tech getting cheaper and lots of interested, data-driven geeks finding each other on the net and exchanging ideas.

The potential impact of self-tracking on personal health and overall well being could someday rival the discovery of penicillin – seriously – and we’re just at the beginning of what’s going to be a huge wave of self-improvement and individualized health care based on self-tracking and analysis.

I’ve recently entered the world of self-tracking… and there’s no going back.  My weight, body fat percentage, running speed and distance, calories burned, sleep patterns, investments, genetic predispositions, daily routines, mood, and even commute times are tracked and analyzed.  Sound a little excessive?  Maybe.  But only because it’s still not 100% automatic.  But it’s really, really close to being “set it and forget it”, and for me, the benefits far outweigh the few minutes I spend each day tracking things.

What is Self-Tracking?

The basic concept behind self-tracking is simple: our ability to determine cause and effect through our memory or experience alone is inherently faulty.  It’s tough enough for most of us to remember a birthday or anniversary.  Ask us to calculate how many calories we burned yesterday and how that affected our sleep last night and our blood pressure will rise – and we won’t even be able to detect that in order to prevent it from happening in the future! 

Our minds play games with us… they trick us into seeing and believing things that aren’t there in order to "protect us".  We can rationalize most anything we do or say (science shows this) which means deciding not to exercise because we’re busy or just don’t feel like it is easy to justify.  Of course, machines aren’t as easily tricked.

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Written by Mike Torres

June 7th, 2010 at 6:21 pm

12 Goals: Tools You Can Use

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Before starting here, you might first want to read the introduction, Step 1, Step 2, & Step 3.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Click for photoNow that you’ve made your way through the details of the Twelve Goals program, it’s time to get serious by employing the use of some tools.  These tools are meant solely to supplement your plan, not to replace or define it.  In order to get the most out of these tools, you have to have your vision, your monthly goals, and your habits & tasks ready to execute throughout the year.  These tools are only as good as your plan is.  Far too many people in situations like this get more carried away with the tools themselves, tweaking every setting imaginable, instead of focusing on the thing that matters: the plan itself.

So before going further, please do spend the time to make sure your plan is as complete as you can make it.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 29th, 2009 at 8:30 am

12 Goals: Define and Track Your Habits & Tasks (Step 3)

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Before starting with Step 3, you might first want to read the introduction, Step 1 & Step 2.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Breaking Down Each Goal

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I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacations with better care than they plan their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change. – Jim Rohn

Twelve Goals is an annual plan you create for yourself.  A plan of inspiration, a plan of action, and a plan you can be accountable to.

By this point, you should have all twelve of your goals locked and loaded for the year.  It’ll probably be frustrating then to hear that even though they’re 99.9% committed, they can still change throughout the year.  How so?  By identifying what it will take to actually achieve them given your circumstances. 

In Step 2 you probably did a “squint test” or “t-shirt sized cost (i.e. Small, Medium, Large, X-Large) ” of feasibility.  Meaning: if you squinted hard enough you could probably see how a particular goal could be achieved in the month you assigned it to.  But guessing really isn’t good enough.  Sometimes you don’t know just how much work needs to happen in order to get something accomplished, and it’s easy to get sidetracked or delayed by unforeseen events.

This step is all about figuring out what it’s going to take.  It’s about getting real.  But it’s also about being agile and adapting your plan throughout the year as conditions change.

In project management, the approach of breaking down a project into smaller work items is called a work breakdown structure (or a work backlog).  As defined by Wikipedia, a work breakdown structure consists of "the end objective, successively subdividing it into manageable components in terms of size, duration, and responsibility which include all steps necessary to achieve the objective.”

In Twelve Goals parlance, this is identifying every task that needs to be checked off in order to accomplish your goal.

Sounds like a lot of work… and it can be.  But spending the time now to squabble with yourself about what it takes to make something happen is better than fighting yourself when you’ve hit a wall halfway through your second month.  There’s nothing more frustrating than assuming you know how to do something, just to find out you weren’t ready to begin with.  In other words, this step above everything else is about being honest with yourself about where you are, what you need to do, and what needs to happen around your goal to make it achievable.

Preparation is key.

Defining a work breakdown structure for a complex project can be harder than coming up with a task list for a single goal, but the intent is the same.  Your primary objective throughout this process is to learn.  Learn everything you can about the thing you’re going to accomplish so you have all the ammunition you’ll need when you need it.

Remember: your future self is lazier than you are right now.  Right now you have energy, you have positive intent, and you have that elusive feeling that you can conquer anything.  Use this vigor for the next few hours to lay out your plan for the year.  Because if you do it now, you’ll have something to refer to for the next twelve months.  No excuses.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 26th, 2009 at 4:16 pm

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