KiMBALL PETERSON

AUTHOR - LIFE HACKER- CREATIVITY EXPLORER

The Four Priorities

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I ran into an email from Dane Findley of overfiftyandfit.com that suggests there are certain lifestyle habits that are the most important for well being. He calls them the 4 priorities. I’ve listed them below (please note that I’ve paraphrased them slightly but not altering their essential meaning).

The 4 Priorities

Life tends to flow more joyfully when these good habits are prioritized.

1. improved nutrition: daily diet is the single most important strategy for reducing inflammation and reducing the risk of accelerated aging.

2. Improved sleep: sleep is a key component to intelligent recovery. During deep sleep is when your body repairs itself most optimally.

3. Improved movement and strength.

4. Improved mindfulness and enhancement of joy.

I’ve become so focused on writing that I’ve let some of these slide.

Not a good idea. I have Parkinson’s disease - fortunately at a very early and stable stage. So these habits are absolutely critical to my long term well being. I won’t be healthy enough to write unless they are part of my daily schedule and actually executed at their appointed time.

I’ll go back to my daily journal at 7am to be sure I plan for these every day and add them in my schedule along with my writing. The 7am to 8am period really is my ‘power hour’ for prioritizing my day and doing my mindfulness practices. Logging exercise, sleep and nutrition is a key component to my strategy. “When performance is measured, performance improves.” It’s totally true in my case, so I’ll restart the logging process tomorrow. (It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve not been doing this. But once the habit is broken, I essentially feel like I’m starting all over again.)

This email was truly a wake-up call given that I see my Parkinson’s specialist this week and I’ll have to explain what I’ve done in these areas since my last visit. It’s no fun to have to explain to your doctor that you aren’t prioritizing the habits that will slow the progression of your disease.

But whether or not you have a chronic medical condition, this short and sweet list can really set the tone for your basic approach to living healthfully.

Just Do Five More - The Art of Concentration

Love this article from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/14/the-lost-art-of-concentration-being-distracted-in-a-digital-world. It reinforces what I talked about in a recent post on multi-tasking. No need to summarize the article here because you can read it yourself.

The article suggests a dynamite way to improve concentration that I’m going to start using immediately because it is so easy to understand and implement.

The ‘money shot’ quote:

This is a simple way of learning to concentrate better. It goes like this: whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus. The rule pushes you just beyond the point of frustration and helps build mental concentration. It’s a form of training as well as being a way of getting something accomplished.

“Do Five More” is my new mantra.

Morning Mindfulness Practices

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I like to start my morning with simple mindfulness exercises to regain perspective and find a calm center to infuse the rest of my day.

  • First, I spend at least ten minutes in guided meditation using an iPad app like Calm or Headspace. Alternatively, I set a timer and simply - without judgement - observe my breath. If my mind is particularly scattered, I’ll count the breaths to maintain focused awareness.

  • Second, I list three things that I feel gratitude for on that particular day. I gently visualize them until I feel an actual sense of gratitude in my body, particularly in my heart area. I find that anchoring the body sense along with the mental focus is more effective than using the mind alone.

  • I finish with a closed eyes silent recitation of the following, visualizing and feeling the sense of compassion and kindness in my body.

Kindness and Forgiveness Practice:

May I be happy (breathe in and out). May I be safe (breathe in and out). May I be well (breathe in and out). May I have peace and be at ease (breathe in and out). Repeat X 3

May I forgive myself (breathe in and out). May I forgive all others who may have injured me (breathe in and out). May I have peace and be at ease (breathe in and out) X3

May I be filled with generosity (breathe in and out). May I be filled with joy and gratitude (breathe in and out). May I be filled with kindness and compassion to myself and others (breathe in and out). May I be kind to all beings (breathe in and out). X3

May I have physical well being and mental ease (breath in and out). May I be kind to all beings (breathe in and out). May I be at peace (breathe in and out). May all beings be at peace (breathe in and out) X3



I find this morning ritual to be a gentle way to rid myself of the stress of our current turbulent times and put my mind in the proper mood for tackling the challenges of the day ahead.

Multitasking - the Road to Reduced Productivity

To do two things at once is to do neither.
— Publilius Syrus

I’ll admit it. From time to time, I have bad habits when it comes to internet browsing or looking at emails when they pop up on my screen.

A multitude of studies have demonstrated that your productive energy is depleted and your task focus is severely impaired by multitasking. It can take a half-hour to get back on task after responding to an email.

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And yet I still have friends who pride themselves on their ability to multitask. I guess it depends on what kind of work you do.

In my experience, heavy duty creative thinking, such as writing a novel, requires long periods of focused flow with limited interruptions. I need to use my best creative time - early mornings - when my energy is at a peak to do my best work. And guess what? That’s when I’m most tempted to browse the most current news and catch up on emails. I know better, but I still do it.

Yes, you can purchase apps that block browsing or emails, but I’ve found the best way to control the habit is through mindful awareness. When I find myself slipping into the multitasking habit, I keep a detailed time log for a week or two to see where and how I’m frittering away time, and secondly, I keep a small notepad next to me and simply put down a tick mark each time I have the impulse to browse or look at emails. It’s amazing how this awareness trick will bring the problem back to heel within a few days. It also works for any impulse control issue.

The other thing that I’m doing to maintain mental focus is sticking to a strict news ‘fast’. If reading something saps energy, then it’s a performance killer. Today’s news is so toxic that minimizing exposure is key to mental energy conservation. Yes, as an engaged citizen, you need to be aware of trends to do your civic duty such as voting responsibly, but do you really need to read the same general articles in the Washington Post, the New York Times and Politico and follow the bunny trails from each main link? Do you really need to watch two hours of cable talking heads each night as they focus on the most negative stories of the day? On your death bed, are you going to wish you’d read more news or watched more political pundits? I think not. I budget a few minutes each day to read the most important articles and opinion pieces and then that’s it. Then I do my physical exercise of the day to blow off the stress and anxiety that the news has produced.

Bottom line: If you want to maximize productivity, particularly as a writer, you can’t fall into indiscriminate multi-tasking or get sucked into endless bad news. Shepherd your mental energy - it’s priceless if you want to do creative work.

Are Hypnosis Apps Effective?

In the current novel I'm writing, Blood Sacrifice, the subtle use of drug enhanced hypnosis plays a vital part in the plot.

In the course of researching hypnosis, findings were inconclusive at best. It appears to have some effectiveness helping people cope with pain, stress and anxiety. It might help with quitting smoking or losing weight. For unknown reasons, some people are more suggestible. But it is not a panacea. It is basically a form of guided relaxation and focused attention. Cognitive therapy for example, which you can be trained to do on your own, is at least as effective.

As an active experimenter, I thought I'd try a variety of recorded hypnosis sessions on various Apple iPad apps to see if I felt any different after using them. I chose two of the highest reviewed and used them for a minimum of thirty days. I wrote the results in my Daily Writer's Journal.

This is what I found: no meaningful impact on my writing performance or mood. In fact I slept through many of the sessions because they were incredibly soothing to listen to.

As relaxation apps they were terrific. As performance enhancers, they did nothing that I could quantify.

But I’m skeptical by nature and since hypnosis works best on those who believe in its efficacy, I’m not a good subject. As an example of the importance of innate suggestibility, comedy hypnotists in Las Vegas skillfully choose participants who are most likely to respond to suggestion on stage. In essence, they pick the people - consciously or subconsciously - who most want to do crazy things in front of an audience. For these subjects, the experience is totally real. Not only are they open to suggestion, they are smitten with it. But alas, I’m not one of them.

What does work for me? Written cognitive exercises combined with written affirmations and mindfulness exercises such as gratitude and forgiveness practices. They don’t put me to sleep and actually do create a shift in attention. I also find music, and motivational apps like Peptalk, helpful to pump up energy and motivation. And just getting the daily quota of work done makes me feel better and maintains momentum.

Bottom line: do hypnosis apps work? Perhaps for other people, but not me.

Hypnosis is another of those mysterious mental black holes where we just don’t know enough about the underlying processes to say for certain why it works for some people and not at all for others.

If you’re drawn to it, by all means give an app a try. It might just work for you.

An Impulse Control Method

I know you've been there.

You know you have a scheduled task. The time has come to do it. And yet, the little voice in your head says "I don't feel like it. Why don't we go do something different - like follow the bunny trail down these web pages?". And if you're like me, you'll often mindlessly listen to that voice of resistance, and go off and do the other thing. Often you'll actually be hip deep in a project and give in midstream to the impulse.

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Like many people, I get into this habit periodically. A couple of years ago I was advised by a very wise mindfulness coach to try a very simple method to regain control in the face of resistance: keep a pad by your side and every time the impulse voice whispers to you, put a tick mark on the pad whether or not you actually give in to it or not.

At first, the results can be horrifying. You'll be amazed at the number of times resistance rears its ugly head during an average day. But then, as you gain awareness, you'll find your impulse control improving because you've given yourself a chance to step back and calmly confront resistance. When you are aware of the impulse, you can ask yourself "Is this the best use of my time right now?"

By itself, it won't necessarily make you the Yoda of Productivity or the Master of Impulse Control, but I've found it helps. When I'm monitoring a particular impulse control issue, the tick marks slowly diminish as my awareness increases. I get better at making a conscious decision. Not perfect. But better.

This method is well attuned to impulse behaviors such as excessive multi-tasking where your daily productivity leaks away without you noticing. It's estimated that up to 40% of productivity is lost due to excessive task switching. The tick mark method nips that in the bud since you can make a conscious decision.

This method can also be applied to other behaviors. I've found useful to curb negative behaviors such as the urge to snack. It gives you the opportunity to ask "Do I really want to follow this impulse even though it's not good for me?"

I've expanded this concept into the creation of a formal impulse control checklist that I keep as a Excel print out on a clipboard within easy reach. The checklist covers all my main impulse control issues. I simply add a tick mark to next to the item as it comes up. I've found this awareness building tool to be extremely effective. When I use it, I have much better control. When I don't use it, I fall quickly back into less than optimal habits.

Writer's block and serious procrastination may have to be addressed with more potent cognitive tools. But I've found this simple awareness builder to be extremely helpful in moving toward mindfulness and away from mindlessness. I still may make the wrong decision, but at least it was a concious one.

 

 

A Powerful Focusing Question which can boost your productivity

Can asking yourself a simple question several times a day substantially boost your productivity?

Yes, absolutely. If done regularly and acted on, using the focusing question will produce laser intention on achieving high level tasks and reinforces improved impulse control.

Before we get to the actual question and how to use it, you need to have done some preliminary work fundamental to any time management system:

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  • At the 60,000 foot level, you've done some soul searching about your vision for your life and designed your goals and bucket list accordingly. Essentially you've created a map of where you want to go. And most importantly, you're actually serious about the goals and willing to complete the work necessary to achieve them. On a more mundane tactical level, you've determined what you need to do to make the rest of your life function at a high level and have set the relevant goals.
  • You've then taken your goals and determined the needed tasks and milestones to produce the results you're looking forward.
  • You're using some sort of formalized planning system/calendar with uninterrupted blocks of time scheduled for the most important tasks in priority order.

Having done the preliminary work, you're now ready to use the simple focusing question:

"What is the best use of my time right now?"

What does this question do for you?

  • It instantly brings you back to the present moment.
  • It stops multitasking because that's never the best use of your time.
  • It forces you to determine where you are with respect to the most important goals and tasks you've set and what the next step is.
  • It serves as an action inducer if you get in the habit of executing the 'best use' time management choice every time you ask yourself the question. The habit forms if you use the 'best use' answer most of the time. Your energy is depleted when you take the opposite course.

How do I personally use it?

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I use a Gymboss interval timer which I set on a 30 minute repeating countdown. It vibrates at the end of each timing cycle, and I immediately ask myself the question no matter what I'm doing. It's an eye opener since I often find I'm off task or multi-tasking. When feasible I then shift my attention to the most important task.

As I mull over my intention to act or not, I often expand the question:

FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS BEFORE DOING ANYTHING

1.      What is the best use of my time right now?

2.      What is the best decision I can make right now that is in alignment with my vision?

3.      Does this satisfy the "one thing" priority goal?

4.      Does this push my comfort zone and meet my learning goals?

5.      Does this fit today's priority list?

6.      Does this lead to flow?

Being human, I often ignore the right answer to the question and do something else that's not optimal. But at least my awareness is raised and I'm more likely to get to the 'best use of my time' task sooner than later.

Bottom line: Set your goals. List your tasks. Get an interval timer and set it to 30 minute intervals. When it vibrates, ask yourself the question. You might find your productivity increasing substantially over time as you learn to execute the strategy as an ingrained habit.

 

 

First Impressions of the Panda Planning System

UPDATE: November 13. Is the Panda Planner a worthwhile investment?  After experimenting with it for several weeks, the answer for me is a firm 'no'. While the concepts behind the Panda design are sound, I prefer working in a digital environment and the design of the planner itself doesn't lead to legible notes or room for enough detail. It turned out that it was simply more efficient for me to take the positive ideas behind Panda and incorporate them in my other tools which I've now simplified.


I received my copy of the hardbound Panda Planner yesterday, and I'm beginning to work with it today.

In order to provide context, I'll describe my time management starting point and why I'm trying the alternative Panda system.

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What I've been using up to now:

  • Trello for setting major goals and sub tasks. (Although it's popular, I'm not really all that wild about it since the app seems 'chunky' to me.)
  •  I've recently adopted the prioritization method outlined by Gary Keller in his book "The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results" (which I'll cover in another post). This method requires a deep dive to determine your top priority and then setting aside sufficient uninterrupted time to focus exclusively on it.
  • Monthly, Daily and Weekly Task Checklists in Evernote.
  • A performance review section in my daily writer's journal which I fill in daily.

So I'd have to say I already have a comprehensive goals-to-tasks time management system in place. Am I entirely happy with it? No.

The problem is that my system is overwhelming in complexity and detail and tends to scatter my attention.  I certainly don't feel enthused when I see such a huge list. I find myself ticking off checklist items in a disorganized manner. Whatever I see on the daily list, which I keep up on a second monitor, draws me in to perform the easiest items first. So at day's end, often the smallest items are checked off, with the most important items not having had the necessary time and focus for task execution at a high level.

While I was contemplating this 'scattered focus' problem, I ran into (via Stumbleupon) a fascinating article by Amy Carleton on The Cut - The Centuries-Old Strategy That Turbocharged my Productivity.

She uses a paper planner rather than digital tools.  She cites research that suggests that physically writing down goals and tasks leads to higher productivity. It's not just the process of setting the goals and tasks - it's how you go about it.

Based on that finding, I decided to simplify my system and try a paper based planner to see if a new approach could improve my productivity.

Enter the Panda Planner - a recent addition to paper planners -  and one which purports to 'make you happier, more organized and more productive'.

I decided to give it a shot after looking at the Amazon reviews - almost 2600 of them with a cumulative average 4.5 rating. The product page is full of enthusiastic 5 star reviews.

The planners come in two sizes and I bought the smaller one to take up less desk space.

Panda comes with links to various tutorials and various other e-books and videos to support the use of the planner.

Here are my initial impressions:

  1. The book itself is hardbound and looks like a Moleskine notebook. It's solid and the paper stock is suitable. The size (at 5.25 by 8.25 inches) makes it portable but the entry blocks are way too small. Unless you have tiny and legible handwriting, this really hampers the process of working with the planner.  I hate looking at my entries and having no idea what they say. Tiny readable script is not in my toolbox. Digital planning and task checklists don't have this problem.
  2. The planner has daily, weekly, and monthly sections which are placed in different parts of the notebook. This is problematic since you have to move back and forth between sections depending on what you're entering.
  3. The dates are unnumbered, so you need to fill them in daily. I'd guess that there are probably only enough daily pages for three months or so depending on how many days a week you actually used it. I use a planner seven days a week, so I'll burn through the planner fairly rapidly. So it's not an inexpensive system to use if you have to purchase several each year.
  4. The individual pages force you to drill down to a very few of your highest priorities and tasks. This approach fits the "One Thing" concept perfectly. However, all my other important but not critical tasks still exist, and I want to check off as many as possible for peace of mind and keeping my chores under control. So I'll still have to keep my Evernote task list, but I'll set aside scheduled review times - outside of the priority blocks - to avoid getting off track.
  5. I like the fact that the daily entry starts with a gratitude list, an "I'm excited about" list, an affirmation, a focus area and planned exercise. The day ends with a "Today's Wins" and a "How I'll improve" section.
  6. Unless you've done no goal setting or time management before, the accompanying video tutorials aren't critical to the use of the system. Its design is intuitive. You can take it out of its packaging and immediately start using it.

Bottom Line:

  • The planner version I bought is too small and hard to work with.
  • Given the fact that I'm a writer and need to work in uninterrupted blocks of time, the planner's simplified system has great potential. I'm not sure how well this would map to someone with unpredictable schedules where instant flexibility is needed. Many people can't block out fifty minute intervals which the experts say is optimal. But I can. And will
  • It fits perfectly with the "One Thing" prioritization method. This is critical for me.
  • It has clever positive psychology built in to its design. It ensures that, on top of your top goals and tasks, you're thinking about gratitude, affirmations, exercise, and 'wins' on a daily basis. This could definitely help craft a positive mindset first thing in the morning as you complete the planner entries.
  • It can't substitute for a comprehensive task or project list which most people will still have to maintain in one form or another. So I doubt that for most people it is a time saver.  
  • Overall impression: Panda has a sound and positive concept, but my unreadable handwriting in small entry blocks may be a killer to actually using it.

I'll report my experiences using Panda two weeks in, and then again at one month and three months. By that time I will have filled out the planner completely and will know whether the system is working for me or not.

Can A Paper Planner Be More Effective Than Digital?

I ran into (via Stumbleupon) a fascinating article by Amy Carleton on The Cut - The Centuries-Old Strategy That Turbocharged my Productivity.

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You can read the article for yourself, but essentially she decided to try a daily planner the old fashioned way - on paper. And it worked. It apparently turbocharged her productivity.

As she puts it: "And I saw results: I read more, I exercised more, I cooked more, I had abstracts accepted for presentations at academic conferences. My time constraints didn’t change, but I became more aware of those constraints and how to consciously work within them."

She says that research indicates that writing down - instead of typing - tasks engages the mind more effectively.

In my case, I have all kinds of digital planners that I use during the day, and and I honestly can't say that they've 'turbocharged my productivity'. I often look at, and then ignore, them.

Nevertheless, the article set me to wondering. Would my own productivity improve with a paper based planning system?

I have several writing goals that I'd like to set hard deadlines for, as well as some habit changes. These don't seem to be happening despite all my virtual checklists on Evernote and goals/tasks apps (Trello at the moment.)

So I'm going to give the paper planner a whirl. I've ordered the Panda Planner on Amazon to see if this actually works better than my digital alternatives. It has a 4.4 rating (out of 5) on Amazon and there are myriads of enthusiastic reviews. Maybe there is something to this?

We'll see. It's a good lifehacking experiment and certainly can't hurt. Fortunately I work from home, so I don't have to drag the planner around with me which is one compelling reason for virtual versions.

I'll report progress at the end of November after I've given it a reasonable trial.

I'm ready to be Turbocharged!

 

 

 

An Overquantified Life?

An Over-Quantified Life?

I’ve found that measuring certain behaviors, physical markers, goals, mood and activity on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis, is very helpful to keep my life on track.

How many data points do I track: 38 items!

That sounds ridiculous, but how many items do you track on your daily task list? Or your weekly/monthly/annual goals?

For me the 38 items is about right. Mine cover the basic measurements relating to weight, blood pressure, writing hours and pages, exercise and mood. Those five basic areas encompass my 38 individual data points. My Fitbit app for example, tracks ten different measures and it stays open on a second monitor so that I know where I stand with respect to my daily exercise goals at all times.  I have Parkinson’s disease, so the more activity I get, the better to stave off the effects as long as possible.

The Quantified Self movement goes well beyond this. There are reports that some people track up to 300 or more data points each day.

Is that a good idea?

I think that tracking too many items can easily move into the obsessive disorder spectrum and have diminishing returns given the time spent on it.

Let's put it this way. Would I prefer to spend my time working on my novels or recording or reviewing data points?

To me the answer is obvious. Writing has the higher priority and is the best use of my time. As I write this I'm even wondering whether all the items I do track are worth my time.

I'm sure at some point there will be automated apps which will continuously monitor all of your health related data and only notify you if something is out of the norm.

I think that's where the quantified self movement needs to evolve to.

Now I'm going to go look at my spreadsheet and delete all items that aren't truly 'value added'. My time is a precious and diminishing commodity and I don't want to waste it on logging.

 

Embrace the Shake

He suffers more than necessary, who suffers before it is necessary.
— Seneca

Let's get serious - deadly serious - for a moment. And sorry if the title isn't original. But it is so on point to my current life choices that I'm borrowing it for this post.

People get negative surprises all the time. That's part of the human condition. Relationships, jobs, family and health don't continue in stasis. They change. Sometimes for the better. Oftentimes for the worse. We age and become prone to physical issues. That's reality and we all have to deal with it. But mostly, unless we are deathly ill, we do have some degree of choice in how we react.

This hit home hard a year ago when I got the unfortunate news that I have early stage Parkinson's.

That kind of news sets many people into a depressive spiral. I've had family members really concerned about how I'm handling it. Thanks to hard earned cognitive and mindfulness based training (which I'll cover in another post), I'm handling it just fine, thank you. The Seneca quote above is my mantra on the subject. I'll save my suffering for when it truly becomes necessary.

During my mindfulness training, I discovered that for me, futurizing and catastrophizing had become my default thinking pattern. I'd become immobilized by anxiety and worry about things that hadn't happened yet. Through a lot of work, I learned to challenge that type of thinking and stay in the present.

Based on that fundamental lesson, I chose to reframe how to relate to a progressive disease.

The key to reframing my particular problem: progressive means that the decline is in the future. If I feel fairly well today...in this moment...that's a triumph and a miracle. I might not feel well in the next moment. But my job is to make the good moments count and do everything I can to to keep my body and mind as healthy as possible. Exercise, writing and art dominate my days as I fight to keep as mentally competent and physically healthy as possible. My motto is 'never give in-never give up-and never surrender'. Never mind that that quote is from Galaxy Quest - a sci fi parody from 1999. The quote may come from a movie spoof but it has seriousness to it if you actually internalize it. At some point, I'll have to surrender. But that time hasn't come yet.

Micheal J. Fox is a hero to the Parkinson's community   

Micheal J. Fox is a hero to the Parkinson's community

 

In essence, I'm learning to 'embrace the shake' inherent in Parkinson's and make the most of my life while I can.

Embracing the shake has given me a real awakening. It's transformed my life. I now spend my days doing creative work instead of spending my days playing online poker. I exercise instead of watching TV. I stay mindful instead of ruminating about things that haven't happened yet.

Now I'm not a Pollyanna. Reframing serious illness into mindful action doesn't work for everybody.

But for many of us, we do have a chance to reframe the experience of serious illness into a call for action. Mindfulness. Appropriate nutrition. Exercise habits. Mental reframing. Using your remaining time to the fullest.

That's the best we can do.

 

Transform Your Life with the Five Second Rule

A short but very important, and possibly life changing, post today: the Five Second Rule.

The Rule: Every time your mind comes up with an idea or intuition or instinct that you know would be helpful and where you can initiate an immediate action (no matter what that might be) - start an instant mental countdown: Five - Four - Three - Two - One -  Go!  and actively implement the action with no delay (think NASA countdown to a rocket launch). It's an utterly amazing tool if you're willing to actually follow through. Obviously, being action oriented pays off in all parts of your life.

Backstory: I like time based life hacks where you just follow the rule no matter what and consistently get great results. This fits in that category.

My old favorite—the 2 minute rule from David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methodology.

The 2 minute rule: If you encounter a task during your day that you need to get done, and you can accomplish it in two minutes or less, do it immediately and get it out of your head. I’ve found this to be incredibly productive, and it gets rid of the energy vampire inherent with an undone task.

My new favorite: the Five Second Rule.

The 5 Second Rule: when your brain gives you a clue that you should do something, you count down for five seconds (just like a NASA rocket launch countdown) and immediately launch into action. No matter what it is and no matter how small the action. No waiting. If you wait, your brain talks you out of the action.

Why is it effective?

Compare the 5 second rule to Nike's slogan: “Just do it!"

But what is “it”? And when do you do “it”? And how do you get yourself in motion to do "it"?

It’s an aspirational slogan, and I love it. It pulls you seductively toward an active lifestyle. It's as sexy as the ads imply. We all want to be proactive and adventurous. To not procrastinate and to venture beyond our usual boundaries.  But a slogan isn't a tool. It doesn’t set you into immediate action. It's a 'pull' slogan and not a 'push' tool.

The Five Second Rule is a push tool. The five second countdown propels you into action immediately before your mind talks you out of it with typical mental responses like "I don't feel like it right now", I'll do it later" or "I need to think more about it." Sadly, much of the time we listen to that whiny voice and action isn't taken.  Do that for long enough and you've developed a procrastination, or a fear of action, habit. Been there, done that. So I know what it feels like.

So the Nike slogan is a pull to an aspiration, and the Five Second Rule is a push toward concrete instant action. That's a huge difference.

I’ve been successfully trying it out for a couple of weeks, and I suspect it will be very powerful if I can integrate it into my automatic decision making process. So far so good. I have a virtual post-it on my computer to remind me.

Obviously I’m not giving justice to the details of the method, so I highly recommend the original source: The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins ( http://amzn.to/2rq2gCq ) .

I believe it can be truly transformative if you seriously want to cultivate an action oriented life.

Read the book. Try it out. You might be amazed.

 

 

 

 

The Power of 60 Day Personal Challenges

How long does it take to make a new habit?

Conventional wisdom says thirty days is all that it takes to ingrain the habit.

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Wrong! I wish it was that easy.

It seems like the media is always encouraging us to undertake thirty day challenges based on that belief. Thirty days to thirty pushups. Thirty days to drink more water. Thirty days to become a morning person. Thirty days to quit a bad habit. And so on.

Most of us can get through the thirty days, but is the behavior habituated enough so that you can maintain it with minimal effort after the challenge is over?

No. Apparently not for the majority of us.

A 2009 report in the European Journal of Social Psychology provided empirical evidence that it takes more than two months to form a habit.  

Two months! 

And I suspect it takes a hell of a lot longer than that to change problematic habits such as sub-optimal eating (that’s code for eating crap at least once a day). I can attest to that. I’m much better at creating new habits than changing decades-old bad ones.

One obvious problem is that thirty days is so short that you inevitably are going to have bad days where you don’t meet the daily target. A few of those, particularly if they are in a row, and you become discouraged and just give up. It makes you tired just to think about restarting. So you don’t.

Classic New Year’s resolution syndrome: Start - Have a failure day or two - Get discouraged - Quit.

My personal solution has been to accept, and work with, the science from the 2009 study. Now I use sixty days for my challenge targets. If I'm not willing to seriously work with something for 60 days; it's not worth the effort anyway.

Once I've set my goals, I track them daily, but I give myself space, and more importantly acceptance, if I miss a daily target. I remind myself that I'm working on a long term goal and focus on the next day. And I’ll schedule days off so that I don’t get burned out. Insisting on meeting the target every single day is a set up for failure.

So that I don't obsess over a difficult challenge, I also work on more than one habit so I know that I’ll usually achieve a few every day. Missing one or two targets doesn’t discourage me as long as I'm making progress on something.

Where have I found success using this method?

The two biggies are:

1.      Writing for at least 30 minutes in my Writer’s Journal first thing every morning.

2.      Spending at least four hours a day of writing related activities on my current work in progress in my thriller series.

I’ve now been tracking these every day for the last 267 consecutive days and have about a 95% success rate.  These were huge intimidating goals, but I undertook the long term challenge one day at a time. I know these are finally habituated because I feel like the day is incomplete if I don’t do them.

I’m currently logging twelve different habits, and making good progress in most of them. A good example of an unusual habit target is that I originally set the goal of walking up 15 flights of stairs a day. In less than 60 days, I’m now averaging 30 flights a day, and I can feel it becoming habituated. I hit 50 flights yesterday. Now when I take a writing break I do pushups, abs, and five flights of stairs. All of these are on my challenge lists.

Isn’t this onerous? No.

Just the act of opening my Excel challenge log first thing in the morning to enter the previous day’s data tees me up for the day. It’s actually fun to see major success in a number of previously difficult areas. Not all are success stories yet, but they still get logged and I try to figure out how to tweak my lifestyle to make them happen.

Bottom line: Work with a habit for 60 days and see what happens. I think you’ll like the results. I have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACCOUNTABILITY COACHING

The single best life hack I've tried in the last five years: online accountability coaching on the Coach.me platform.

I'm a writer. I need a daily routine where I meet my daily production goals, number of words or number of hours.

The lizard that lives in my limbic brain tells me to run away from the work. "It's too scary," it says.

The demon posing as my inner critic whispers sweet horrors in my ear. "Your writing will never be good enough," it says.

The procrastination gremlin sits on my other shoulder. "It's too hard. You can do it tomorrow," it says.

All too often I've listened to the evil threesome. I've run away. I've given up too easily. I've procrastinated.

I knew I needed to find a solution to keep them at bay. A solution where an unbiased third party would help me create and keep an accountability plan so that I'd meet my goals no matter what.

I formed a writing group, but it didn't meet often enough.

I found an accountability partner, but that didn't seem to work either. She didn't have a coaching background.

I talked to a very well respected writing coach, but she was well out of my affordability level.

So I thought I'd try an inexpensive online service, Coach.me. For just a few dollars a week, you pick a personal coach in the area of expertise you're interested in. You interact with that coach usually five days a week in a check-in email.

The coach works with you to develop a specific habit formation plan that works for you.

I found a terrific writing accountability coach. We connect every morning. And then I report my progress on my goals at the end of the day.

So how has it worked for me? I haven't missed a Writer's Journal entry in months, and I've only taken a handful of days off from working on my novels or other writing projects.

The cost: about $15 a week.

It's worked so well for me that I've recently started working with a diet and exercise habit coach and I'm already seeing results there as well.

If you can find a coach who resonates with you, this is an incredibly powerful tool.

 

 

 

 

 

PERSONAL KAIZEN: THE 1% SOLUTION

kaizen.jpg

If you’re like me, you probably have a list of at least ten items where you’d like to make improvements.

Typical goal setting areas for most people include:

1.      exercise

2.      diet/weight loss

3.      career progression

4.      relationship improvement

5.      drink less

6.      volunteer

7.      save money

8.      spend more time with family

9.      travel to new places

10.  learn something new

So every January 1, we all sit down with our notebooks and write out our resolutions for the new year. And now, when it’s mid-February, many of us have seen no real sustainable progress in most of our resolutions.

Real life intervenes and it just seems too hard to make the needed changes. We find ourselves in a state of overwhelm and guilt.

I have Parkinson’s which adds to the difficulty.

So what am I doing to avoid the usual crash and burn reaction to New Year’s resolutions having gone awry?

I’ve pared down my critical list to three items:

1.      Exercise, since it’s crucial for neuro-protective health for Parkinson’s patients.

2.      Healthier eating for the same reason.

3.      Time management with a focus on writing my novels.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have goals in many other categories that I actively work towards, but I’m not going to spend the same emotional energy dealing with them.

So how do I approach my three critical items?

I have adapted Personal Kaizen: the 1% Solution.

For all I know there’s a book out with exactly that title, but the following is my spin on the method.

Kaizen is the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. It was first introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in the 1980s. Many Japanese corporations have adapted this management model which emphasizes that good processes bring good results. It is the art of making incremental change. Figure out what the root causes of problems are and find and implement solutions, even if the solutions seem tiny in perspective. It’s the process of continuing this over and over and over again until big results come from many small changes.

I have adapted this idea to my critical list. Instead of being overwhelmed by massive changes, I’ve chosen to look at each item in the attempt to figure out the root problems that need to be solved in order to move forward. Once that’s done, I further break those issues down into micro changes I can make each day. The objective is the 1% solution: how can I do 1% better in at least one category every day. If 1% is too overwhelming, I at least do something to move forward.

That might mean doing one more sit up, or an additional minute of aerobic exercise, slightly decreasing portion size or writing for another five minutes. And I apply this concept to other goals as well. But I focus on the critical three.

Many self-help gurus say that to make massive improvements you have to take massive action. I think that definitely works for some personality types, but for those of us who have health or other life challenges, small continuous improvements are realistically within reach. I can make a micro improvement every day. I can’t remake my world in a day. But make enough 1% improvements and massive changes will eventually show up.

Personal Kaizen, patiently applied in 1% increments, will lead to the results you’re looking for.

EASY BUT INCREDIBLY EFFECTIVE TIME MANAGEMENT TOOL

I've been an executive coach, consultant and outplacement firm executive. I've conducted numerous corporate training sessions on time management and worked with many individuals one-on-one on how to approach their tasks efficiently.

Most time management techniques take a fair amount of initial work to initiate.

But there is one tool that you can start as soon as you finish reading this post.

It's painless and incredibly effective.

Just follow this rule: any time you run into a task that you can do in two minutes or less, immediately do it.

No excuses. No delaying. Just do it.

It's now second nature to me.

Whenever I see a quick task, I ask myself if it can be done in two minutes or less. And if yes, I do it.

This habit is amazingly freeing because it takes no mental decision making bandwidth. No energy depleting willpower is required.

And we all have a few minutes here or there in our schedules to do two minute tasks.

Start asking yourself the question and immediately take action.

It feels great.

 

 

Should You Consider a News Fast?

I don't know about you, but the overwhelming amount of negative and increasingly partisan news over the last few months has become enervating. The costs of keeping up with the news are finally overwhelming the benefits.

I've had a serious news addiction. For the last few years I've spent at least two hours a day reading the New York Times, Huffington Post, Politico and many others. Then watching the Rachel Maddow show every night.

The more news I consumed, the more fatigued I became. Fatigue that lead to increasing depression. Fretting about the state of the world that I have no control over.

So I've elected to go on a news fast, or at least a partial news fast.

I agree that to be a responsible citizen it is important to be informed about the key issues of the day. For example, you shouldn't vote unless you know what you are voting about. And it is important to actively engage in political, health care or climate change issues.

But being responsibly informed doesn't mean to give into the addiction of reading the constant barrage of articles dwelling on variants of the same destructive themes.

Now, instead of two hours plus wallowing in the negative, I give myself a maximum of thirty minutes to look at headlines, including the opinion pages, and read only those articles that I believe are necessary for me to be an informed citizen.

And I'll continue to financially support organizations who are engaging in the day-to-day battle for political freedom without discrimination, health care for all and a healthy environment. 

But I'll no longer give in to the impulse to read obsessively. I only have limited time in my life and so many other positive things I want to focus on, that this is a sacrifice I'm willing to make without hesitation. I'm already feeling the emotional benefits.

An odd corollary is encouraging family and friends to not bring up negative news items. This is an ongoing challenge.

Given current trends, I suspect I'll be on the fast for at least the next four years.

Quick Tip on Behavior Modification

Decide the behaviors that are crucial to your goals. Pick the number one behavior that you tend to blow off or act mindlessly about.

Examples:

  • Slouching.
  • Nail biting or picking.
  • Negative self talk.
  • Exercise.
  • Procrastination.
  • Eating behaviors.
  • Rumination.
  • Lack of focus.

Buy an electronic interval timer like MotivAider or Gymboss, an interval timer app on your smart phone or a watch with timer. Set it to go off every 15 to 30 minutes. It needs to be a timer you can keep somewhere so that it is always with you (a watch, in your pocket or use a clip to fasten it on your clothing).  Set it on vibrate rather than on an audible tone so that you don’t bug other people when it goes off.  Just be sure the interval timer can be set on continuous repeat. I keep mine on from 7am to 4pm, vibrating every 15 minutes.

Decide on a one or two sentence script that you will mentally say to yourself every time you feel the vibration.

It is best if the goal and the related script resonates emotionally with you. If you feel you "should do something" rather than I "really want to do something", the script won't be as powerful. "Should" statements often don't reflect what you really want.

Figuring out what behaviors you really are willing to commit to will be covered in another post. It may take a coach to help you work through your goals or a cognitive therapist to deal with deeper issues, depending on your objectives. If you have addiction issues, you'll want to work with trained professionals.

For now, just pick one behavior you want to work with. The stronger your desire to change the better.

Examples of scripts that you can use with the timer:

  • I am aware of my posture and will sit up/stand up straight.
  • I am aware of and will stop nail biting.
  • I am aware of my negative self talk and will re-frame it.
  • I won’t procrastinate doing __________. (Be specific)
  • I will eat healthily.
  • I will be mindful and not ruminate about things I can't control, are in the past, or are in the future. I will stay in the present moment.
  • I will stay off social media during work hours.
  • I won’t read or watch negative news.
  • I commit to carefully manage my time to achieve my goals.

How does it work? It provides a steady stream of reminders throughout the day so that you become intensely aware of the behavior you want to change. Constant reinforcement leads to behavior change.

I’ve used this method on and off for years and it is really effective.

I used to be an outplacement/career coach and an executive coach, and this was one of the tools I always recommended to my clients because it is practical and absolutely works.

But you must believe, at your emotional core, that you are actually willing to commit to your behavior change. If you are doubtful, this method might not work.

If you feel uncertain, go to the opposite end of your goal list and pick the smallest behavior change you want to achieve and start with that until you feel that this approach actually works for you.

I'm a big believer in Kaizen, which is the Japanese word for incremental improvement. You decide to do something, and then figure out a small improvement that you can commit to. This is an iterative process that takes place over and over again. Given time, with enough Kaizen incremental improvements, you achieve major change.

I'll do another post on Kaizen, but pick a goal and write a script that is not overwhelming but can evolve over time as you become more comfortable with the changes.

Finally the obvious question will be: Do I still use this? Of course. Every single day. Because it works.

My personal script when the timer goes off: “What is the best use of my time right now?”

This script is an incredibly effective way of focusing my mind on what is really important and triggers the right behavior at the right time.

Try it. You'll like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Intermittent Fasting

Update: February 14. I've been a month into this and it's only been partially successful. I've lost a few pounds, but I'm having problem with compliance. About 50% of the days, it's easy, the other days almost impossible. Can't recommend it yet, based on my own experience. Will report again in another month.

 

Update: February 5, 2017. I'm not sure this is a sustainable eating pattern for me. I'm able to do it only about 50% of the time. Will give it another month, but I'm not sure I'm a good candidate for it.

I’m experimenting with intermittent fasting to see if it has any impact on Parkinson’s symptoms. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about a year ago and fortunately it’s very early stage with fairly minimal symptoms controllable by medications.

 

The problem with a medication-only approach is that Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive disease and that medications by themselves began to lose efficacy over time.

 

But there are strategies that a Parkinson’s patient can use to mitigate some of the symptoms. Exercise is one. Diet is potentially another. I’m trying both approaches since I’m at the very beginning of my Parkinson’s journey.

 

The exercise approach is fairly straightforward. Ideally you want to combine aerobic and weight training exercises plus activities that maintain balance such as yoga.

 

Dietary approaches are only recently being studied and there are no firm conclusions yet. However intermittent fasting and ketone diets are being researched. I’m starting with the intermittent fasting approach.

 

There is some evidence from limited animal and human testing that suggests intermittent fasting may have a beneficial effect on neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

 

What is intermittent fasting? Essentially it’s a change in eating patterns. The method that I’m experimenting with is to limit food intake to a eight hour period from noon to 8 PM.

 

Although most people use intermittent fasting for weight loss purposes, I’m interested in the neurological effects.

 

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have been linked to low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase BDNF by 50% to 400% depending on the area of the brain. While it’s too early to tell, due to the paucity of human studies, the impact on BDNF has wide ranging implications for increasing neuro-plasticity and regeneration of brain tissue.

 

I’m planning a 60 day trial of the approach to see if it is a workable lifestyle for me.  I don’t expect any particular neuro impact in that short period, but I do want to see if the diet is tolerable. If so, I’ll continue while we await further human testing. And I’ll probably have some needed weight loss which is just icing on the cake.

 

If intermittent fasting is something that works for me, I’ll then try a ketosis diet.  But that’s another post and at least a few months away.

 

I’ll report at the 30 and 60 day milestones to let you know my experience with the fasting approach.