self improvement

Infomagical: My Journey

infomagical“You mean you haven’t heard of that?”

Sometimes a friend will say this to me when I haven’t seen the latest viral video everyone’s been commenting about on Facebook or read the 10,000 word New York Times article about a social justice issue.

At first, I took this statement, whenever I heard it, as a challenge. I felt like people were a) implying I didn’t know something I should or b) triumphing supposedly knowing more than I did about one of my fields of expertise.

(Yes, I do hear this statement a lot.)



Between the stuff I have to know (work stuff), stuff I want to and should know (news about friends and family) and stuff I just wanted to know (how to cook with matcha green tea) it was already too much. If I could set up ten of my brains in some kind of parallel circuit to process information 24-7, I would still not know everything.

After this realization, when someone asked me about something online I hadn’t heard about, I felt defeated. In a podcast I can’t remember, someone talked about dealing with email being like being in an avalanche, you are moving handfuls of snow but more is coming at you faster than you can imagine. I feel that about email, instant message, social media, RSS feeds, and audio/video in general.

I sat with this hopeless feeling for awhile. I need to know some things but not all things. So what do I do?

Since I’ve changed nothing, nothing has changed. And then something came into my life I needed but would not have known to seek out.



I’ve talked before about Note To Self, a podcast I regularly listen to. I took place in their ‘Bored and Brilliant’ challenge awhile back which basically challenged people to spend less time on their phone through a series of daily challenges. If you missed it and want to do it, here are all the challenges.

This latest challenge called Infomagical was what I needed. Infomagical’s week of challenges offered us ways to change how we process all the information that is coming in. (If you missed it, you can still do it, just click here.)

The podcast episode launching the project mentioned that ten years ago, we were interrupted an average of once every three minutes. And now we’re interrupted once every 45 seconds. Having run this business for nine years this May, I was wondering why over the last couple years in particular I have felt so overwhelmed by information.

Day 1 was the worst day: forcing me to unitask. I don’t just multitask at work, I do at home too. Often I am washing dishes, cooking dinner, and answering emails at the same time. It is like I am in a race with myself 7 am to 7 pm to see how much I can get done before I let myself relax. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been in battle (and I’m sure I look like it too.) Sitting and waiting for files to upload without tabbing over to the next screen felt painful. But much like call center people can look forward to the small break between when they are hung up on and when the machine autodials the next number (ie when there is literally nothing they can do but wait), towards the end of the day, I started looking forward to these times in my day when there would be breaks (attaching images to an email, uploading the podcast, etc.) It made me feel the task at hand getting done.

I won’t ruin the Infomagical challenge for you but I will say it was a good one if you feel like I do: overwhelmed by information.

I have started to push back a little when people say to me things like ‘You mean you haven’t seen insert-thing-here?’

“Nope, but why don’t you tell me about it?” I say. Because somehow, if I think I have to know something beyond what I consciously consume, I bet that information will find its way to me if I am meant to know it. And while my life may be less rich than it would have if I had watched that cat video, I bet the cat I see when I walk my dog will be an ok substitute.



The Four Tendencies: A Deeper Look

The four tendencies in a neat graph via gretchenrubin.com

The four tendencies in a neat graph via gretchenrubin.com

I’m in a bit of a ‘mastermind’ group on Facebook. The idea is we’re supposed to motivate each other with posts and encourage each other.

One of our group members Cherie (an excellent blogger who I am linking here) posted this link for the Four Tendencies quiz: https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1950137/Four-Tendencies-January-2015

If you are a self improvement junkie like I am, you’ve heard of Gretchen Rubin. She wrote ‘The Happiness Project’ and other books about being happier/forming good habits. Her latest book is “Better Than Before” and in it is the Four Tendencies.

Four Tendencies is a framework for how you deal with internal and external expectations. For example, according to the quiz linked above, I am an ‘Obliger’ which means I meet external expectations but have a hard time meeting internal ones. This is apparently the most common tendency. The name of the podcast discussing this is called “Meet a work deadline but can’t go running on your own?” Sounds exactly like me, which is why Kassie’s ability to run marathons is something I admire!



What’s interesting is that obligers will meet expectations over and over and then rebel, usually in a symbolic way. The example they used of this is dying their hair. Guess who was thinking of being rose/gray? 🙂

Now that I know I need external motivation for my internal goals (for example, reporting to my mastermind group online that I was an unmotivated sloth), I feel myself making some headway.

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If you want a better overview as to the why/how these tendencies work: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2015/01/ta-da-the-launch-of-my-quiz-on-the-four-tendencies-learn-about-yourself/

As an added bonus, Gretchen Rubin is going over each tendency in a detailed podcast. I’ll link them all here so you can get to yours easy:

http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2015/11/podcast-37-obliger/

http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2015/10/podcast-36-questioner/

http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2015/11/podcast-38-do-you-hate-being-told-what-to-do-maybe-youre-a-rebel/

http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2015/10/podcast-35-upholder/



Finding Time vs. Making Time

Lately I’ve been feeling exhausted, as if I could close my eyes at any given moment and bam, be fast asleep. Granted, I’ve never had a great track record for getting a good night’s sleep, but this recent stretch has made it incredibly hard to do all the things I would like to in a day: finish writing snail mail to my grandparents, get quilting tutorials from Gram, carve out some creative writing time, relearn the saxophone, learn how to play the ukulele, spend more time baking, do more yoga, take any sort of new class, read something challenging, get the oil change my car desperately needs, go to the track and workout…I have a lot of ambitions lately. This past weekend, I disconnected from this list (except item 2- my Gram gave me a brief quilting intro and hilarity ensued), and complained to a relative about my lack of time. Her response: “‘I don’t have time’ is just another way of saying ‘I don’t want to.’ The time is in there, somewhere, it’s up to you to make it happen.” Not the answer I wanted, but it was definitely the answer I needed. Funny how that happens.



We can’t ever find time, not like the way we find a $10 bill in a pair of jeans during laundry. Time is happening here and now. So, as I wail about never “having” or “finding” time for my various projects, I should really be shifting my attitude to “I already have the time, I just need to use it differently.” Here are some general ideas I’ve gathered to start putting into practice:

Well, would you look at the time…If you have to set an alarm to remember something, no matter how trivial or ridiculous, set it. Having an external reminder reroutes your attention so you can get in a new routine for doing things (the key is remembering to set the alarm). I tend to lose track of time generally, so having an alarm keeps me focused. Well, maybe just less distracted.

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If you have ever seen Disney’s “Mulan,” this will make sense. If not, well…it’s still kinda funny.

Another trick that a friend has shared with me: first thing in the day, do the most pressing and/or most dreaded thing on your to-do list. This starts the day off with a fist-in-the-air, “I’ve totally got this!” vibe, and you won’t spend the rest of the day with this task looming over you (seriously, it’s a gross feeling). Almost every article and blog post on productivity recommends this,  in some shape or form.

Crossing off that one thing on your to do list feels like this.

Crossing off that one thing on your to do list feels like this.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun” -Mary Poppins. As an adult, I’ve noticed that a lot of what I need to accomplish in a day isn’t exactly “fun,” like getting an oil change or spending time on the phone with a health insurance provider. These tasks have to get done, and unless you’re rich, famous, or in possession of a super advanced robot, you have to take care of it yourself.

To tie-in my Mary Poppins reference, when I have to clean my room or run on a treadmill, it seems to go by faster if I listen to Walt Disney on Pandora. It would go by even faster if the woodland creatures actually helped instead of staring blankly from the backyard. Disney music might not be your…jam…but there’s always a way to make the necessary, ho-hum tasks more exciting, from grocery shopping to the DMV.



Coffee is not the answer. I’ve always enjoyed the morning coffee. And afternoon coffee. Well…coffee became something I ingested throughout the day without tracking (like water or air). Vaguely aware that beyond 4 cups before noon borders on the excessive, I felt like I was able to accomplish so much more. My brain was ON! A couple weekends ago, I’d run out of coffee at home but was too lazy to go to the store. By 10 a.m. I had a splitting headache. That moment was a bit of a wake up call. It turns out, excessive caffeine can wreak havoc on your body and emotional state.

Scaling back on coffee huge for me, but other people have various things that help push them through (I was an avid Diet Coke drinker for years, too). The issue was not so my body needing coffee as much as the belief that it was going to make me more productive/energetic. Motivation, much like happiness or anything in that vein, is an inside job. Coffee does not equal motivation.

Maybe someday, I'll be down to just one.

Still counts…

Be Accountable. Sometimes, being accountable to yourself just isn’t enough (it definitely isn’t for me). Nicole has shared her accountability buddy experience before, and I’ve realized that 90% of my life isn’t strictly accountable. Most of the time, this is amazing, but it also means I require a lot of internal motivation. What I lack in accountability I try to make up for in self-awareness (or good friends who make constructive observations).

pinocchio

An example: speed work with running is one of my least favorite activities, but necessary in order to get faster. Since I haven’t had a coach since high school, am running purely for personal benefit, and don’t run with other people, I had to find ways to hold myself accountable for these workouts. Trick 1: Reward: even if it’s something little like watching an episode of It’s Always Sunny, it’s amazing how well this works for me. Trick 2: Visualization-this may sound weird, but here me out. If I go to bed picturing the hard workout (or other activity) that I’m dreading, it’s more likely to get done. Once I allow that little voice to say “Well, maybe you don’t have to…,” it’s game over.

If you aren’t accountable to another person (boss, friend, running buddy, etc), find a way to hold yourself accountable. Some tips on that here.



Chill Out. In the frenzy of “do all the things” this summer, I ignored the cues from my body to take a breather. Breathers were not on my to-do list. Even when my body slowed down, my brain was still tying itself into impossible knots. In other words: my stress skyrocketed and I had zero chill. After only a few months, I dissolved into the fatigued, frazzled, and ultimately useless puddle that started this blog post. Even though I don’t have some high stakes job that forces me to work ridiculous hours, or really anything on the surface that would explain it, my body had been coping with high levels of stress for months on end. Much like the aforementioned coffee-intake, dealing with this amount of stress over a long period of time has serious consequences for one’s health.

In other words, I was able to accomplish the bare minimum of what I needed to in a day, and none of the extra stuff. If you have an ambitious to-do list or feel generally stressed out, remember to slow down and take cues from your body. Making time for hobbies and side-projects is important, but you have to factor in some down-time.

As we head into holiday season, keep in mind that finding time shouldn’t feel like squeezing water from a stone. Making time is a reasonable way to approach the tasks at hand, whatever they may be. Prioritize, find the fun, and maintain sanity! And have a Disney music dance party if it helps.



Three Things I’ve Learned from Being Quiet

Do you ever feel that people are trying to give you a hint?

This past Christmas, my family gave me a couple books (not unusual), and the titles seemed to be a not-so-subtle plea: When Words Matter Most (not sure of the author) and Quiet by Susan Cain. Hmm, I thought, that can’t be a coincidence. My family doesn’t give gifts at random.

I’ve always been quiet- one of my teachers wrote in a college recommendation that I was “painfully shy.” It’s not as if it was news to anyone (least of all myself), and it’s something that I have to work at every day. But, to be honest, I’m just throwing punches in the dark, trying to change my personality and the way I’m fundamentally wired in order to become this “better” thing: an extrovert. It turns out, Quiet is one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read from a personal and professional standpoint.



Quiet explores behavioral, psychological and physiological differences between introverts and extroverts (most of which seems like common knowledge, but there are some interesting . She also makes some important clarifications, for instance being an introvert doesn’t make you shy or sensitive, although you’re more likely to be one or both. This book isn’t about “finding yourself” or “coping with you introversion.” It does offer some insight about different personalities, and, from my point of view, empowers readers to find out what they need. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from being quiet:

Quiet

1. Speaking May Never Get Easier. I’m never going to be comfortable with public or impromptu speaking. And I’m okay with that. That’s not to say I’ll never run a meeting, give a presentation, or do another Tech Thursday video. It just means going about it in a different, more comfortable way. One example: for many of our Tech Thursday videos, if I didn’t mentally or physically have an outline of the subject matter, I blanked out in front of the camera (my brother calls this my “freeze”- rather than fight or flight, I have a third reaction based on the deer in the headlights model). Although I’d grown used to the camera, there was still something short-circuiting in my brain when that little red “Recording” light came on.

Introverted people are more likely to get overstimulated, especially in situations such as public speaking or talk. And, oftentimes, they’ll end up leaving a presentation thinking “Man, I sounded dumb,” or “Oh SNAP, I forgot this one huge point (or five little points)!” As it turns out, that’s not uncommon: “Overarousal interferes with attention and short term memory- key components of the ability to speak on the fly” (126). The key is finding out what does work. This may mean preparation well in advance, a brief meditation beforehand- whatever helps you get in the zone.



2. Finding Your Balance. Some people do their best work alone, some require more stimulation, and others need a mix. There’s a certain level of self-awareness involved here. Personally, I’ve found that although I enjoy having a quiet space to get work done solo, I need to interact with other people (usually, asking Nicole for feedback on something, or collaborating with others on a project). Sometimes it’s going to a Business After Hours. Even though meetings and presentations to a certain extent terrify me, I go back to my quiet desk-space with a new energy that propels whatever I’m working on privately (and I’m fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to do both).

If you’re the type of person who will die of thirst before risking small talk at the water cooler, chances are you aren’t going to do your best work in an office with an open-floor plan and constant drop-ins. However, if you are the guy glued to the water cooler, chances are you aren’t going to want to work in isolation for hours on end. Finding out how you work best could yield some amazing results. Who knows- you could be the next Einstein…

3. It’s not a matter of better vs. worse, good vs. bad, or any of those opposite pairings (which is what I was expecting). For the longest time, I convinced myself that being quiet was “bad” and that I needed to talk more to be a better person. Quiet is a way to determine whether you identify as an introvert, extrovert, or both, without assigning judgement. Everything has strengths and weaknesses. This book was eye-opening for me in terms of playing up my strengths (patience, empathy, listening) in my professional life, and stress less about becoming something I’m not (a toned-down version of Billy Mays, maybe), especially regarding my professional development.



So, if you’re looking for a good read (or want to explore the world of introversion), check out Quiet. Worst case, you learn something you didn’t know before, like what happens to introverted fish in an unfamiliar pond (this isn’t a metaphor- there was literally a fish in a pond study in this book).

And, if you’re not into the idea of committing to a book, Susan Cain gives a TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts” that you can check out, too.

Buy your copy of “Quiet” on Amazon (note: This is an affiliate link)

The First Month of Lift

A day or so after starting this project, I read a blog post on why our resolutions often fail. Turns out, it’s often a failure to change those nit-picky little things that we do- those small changes in our habits. In other words, we should start small, and gradually the bigger changes will come together. Go figure, right?

Which is a perfect lead in for Lift. In the last post, Lift became the app of choice for this personal development project. After one month of using Lift, I’ve (sort of) gotten the hang of it. Setting it up was straightforward- you just click the + sign in the upper right hand corner, and there’s a list of categories:

IMG_1650



I already had some specific ideas in mind, so I just searched for them in the little toolbar and started following them. The winners were: No Sugar (3x a week), Speed Work (running) once a week, Spend 30 Minutes Writing (3x a week), Stop Drinking Soda (All week), Cook New Recipe (once a week), and 30-60 minutes of Reading (4x a week). Here are some of my opinions so far:

Things I Like:

  • When you follow a certain task, you can see the comments, questions, and helpful tips others who follow that particular task have. There’s quite a bit of support that goes along with this app (which, according to the aforementioned blog post, is another key component to increasing your chances of success).
  • You can “follow” questions within a task. For instance, in my “No Sugar” task, I can see all the questions people have asked for support. Some examples include: “Anyone have any sugar free recipes?” (a bunch of people answered this guy), “Did anyone else feel dizzy about 3 weeks in to a no-sugar diet?” and, my favorite, “Does alcohol count?” If someone has asked a question that you find compelling, you can follow it and get a notification whenever other people offer an answer. Of course, another option would be to ask a question of your own and get answers that way, but if that’s not your style (it’s not mine), following questions is a great way to get extra support.

    Lift_Questions

    An example of questions from “30-60 Minutes of Reading”

  • You’re in charge of how pushy Lift gets. If you’re the type of person who needs external reminders to do stuff throughout the day, Lift can make that happen. If you’re more hands-off, you can tell Lift to leave you alone and not send any notifications at all. There’s plenty of gray-area here, too, so if you don’t identify with either ends of the scale (like myself), then you can toy with it a bit more.

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  • You can track goals privately or publicly. So, if you’re working on something that you aren’t keen on sharing with the whole world, don’t. Mark it as “private” and get to moving!
  • A fun sidenote: when you click that you’ve accomplished a task in Lift for the very first time, it kinda makes it sound like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it (ex. “Congratulations! First time ever Flossing!” As if I haven’t flossed in 24 years…).



Things I Don’t Like:

  • There’s one BIG issue that I have with Lift. I forgot to check off something that I’d done one day, and it ruined my “streak.” Lift doesn’t allow you to go back to the day before and check something off, which annoys me (although it makes sense, I suppose). It threw off my little progress calendar, and now it’s driving me nuts. Again, this is 87% user error…but it’s annoying when the computer thinks you’ve broken a streak that you have in fact, not broken.

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  • It’s not clear how to add tasks. At first, I started adding random tasks. A bunch of other tasks pop up, so I was under the assumption that you could only join the pre-determined goals that Lift created. In reality, these are groups that other users have created, and it offers a chance for you to join a little community, if you want. Once I figured out that you CAN in fact add your own personal goals, it made me happier.
  • I started getting some annoying e-mail and notification activity (happening around 3-4 times a day), until I re-did my notification settings.

After the first month, Lift has helped keep me accountable, and I’m still interested in keeping up with this whole thing (my usual resolution checkout happens about two weeks in). And, since Lift shows my progress on a daily basis, I remember to check in (most) every day. For the next month, I’m planning on taking things up a notch (this month was more of a trial and getting the hang of things) and adding more challenging tasks. If anyone has any suggestions/ideas, they’d be appreciated!



Out of the Rut: Getting Started

OuttatheRut

The Lorax is my mascot for this project. And probably for my life.

Something’s Gotta Give.

I’m an insomniac. As frustrating as it is to want something (like sleep), and not get it, over the years I’ve learned how to cope with it. Sure, I spent a fair amount of time stomping my feet tantrum-style, crying “This isn’t fair!” But, demanding that I deserve sleep or complaining about sleep deprivation isn’t going to get me anywhere. I tried. That energy is better spent on taking action (relaxation pre-trying to sleep, no caffeine in the afternoon, etc.).

In the past month or so, I’ve become more aware of how often I say  “I wish I was better at…” or “Someday, I’d like to be able to…” Suddenly, the coping process for my sleeping problem felt like it had a deeper purpose. Instead of trying to force these changes via wishing (preferably upon a shooting star), I could dig my heels in and actively make some changes.

Most of the time, I keep these goals internal, but hey, maybe there are other people out there who’d like to make some changes, too, or have some helpful tips. So, I’m going to share a bit about this process via blog in the hopes that a) I learn some new things about goal setting and technology and b) that other people get inspired, too.

Goal Setting (& Organizing)

This first step was the easy part: I more or less took the “I wishes” and turned them into specific goals. For instance, “I wish I was better at cooking” translates into “Try 1 new recipe a week.” “I wish I knew more about public relations” translates into “Listen to one relevant podcast a week and read something PR related for 20 minutes, 2 nights a week.”

To get these going, I started a spreadsheet. This divided up my goals into sections that made sense (fitness, finance, education/professional development, human-hood). I even had a category for “Action Steps,” and felt amazing already just by having proactive thoughts. My brain got lazy, and considered just stopping at the spreadsheet, because “Hey, this looks good. Probably close enough, right?”

Wrong. The next step was to find an app, which (ideally) will help keep me stay on track, and keep my goals somewhere other than my sneaky brain.



App Selection

My criteria: free, low maintenance (it sends me reminders but isn’t overly obnoxious), focused on details (as opposed to the big picture).

ISO: App that is practically perfect in every way.

ISO: App that is practically perfect in every way.

This point in the process hung me up the most, in part because I’m a commitaphobe, and my winning app choice had to be strong enough to see me through some challenges. I have a hard enough time taking advice from real people, so a robot has it’s work cut out for it. (Note: the list of apps below is by no means an exhaustive list of the candidates, just a snapshot of the serious contenders).

Everest

What I liked:  Everest is a “personal journey” app, meant for sharing a picture and then sharing the experience behind it with a larger community. Sounds cool, and I generally enjoy the idea of getting motivated/inspired by others, and I loved the idea of a visual element.
Reason I didn’t choose it: This is more of a “big picture” app, and I already tend to think about the big picture. The app I have in mind needs to strengthen my attention to detail.

Lifetick

What I liked: Before getting into your goals, this app determines your core values, or what makes you “tick.” Each goal you set must be “S.M.A.R.T.” : Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Specific. It seemed like it integrated Big Picture/Small Detail thinking well, which was a huge bonus.
Reason I didn’t choose it: There’s a two week free trial period, but after that, it costs money. Next.

Lift

The Winner!

The Winner!

What I liked: The name hooked me, and the reviews (online and in the app store) were stellar. It focuses mainly on changing the little things. One of my biggest obstacles is attention to detail, and Lift is all about making small, bit-sized changes. It also gives you the opportunity to connect with other people and offer encouragement. After all, it’s just as fun to encourage others as it is to be encouraged. And, there are fun quotes (see below) that pop up, and I love that sort of “warm and fuzzy” stuff.

 

Next Steps

So, as of today, I have some goals going in Lift. It will be interesting to see whether or not having an app to assist will be helpful (or annoying), and what kind of progress there will be along the way. Stay tuned!

 

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Lift: the start of a beautiful friendship.



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