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Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

7 Reasons to Accept Your Limitations

In Designer Lifestyle on November 28, 2012 at 10:16 pm

What happens when limitations overpower us

It’s difficult not to feel hard done-by when you consider some of the problems some of us suffer from. We dream of having the freedom to do whatever we want and to shed whatever shackles are holding us back. But limitations aren’t manacles or a jail sentence. If they are managed in the proper way, they can be the inspiration for great feats of creativity and daring. Enough pressure creates diamonds.

There are the more obvious limitations like physical disabilities, health or mental issues, limited finances and poor education. But we are also good at creating limitations that are entirely made up. When you come to accept your limitations, you will escape denial and figure out ways to cope, to improve, or to rise above them.

1. Life isn’t fun without a challenge.

If you could have everything that you wanted handed to you on a plate, it would be amazing. For a short time. But we give value to things by striving towards them and appreciating the effort we’ve put into them. If you could have something without effort, you might end up wanting more. There are reasons that we hear about lottery winners losing all their money so frequently. Some people simply can’t respect their new wealth if they don’t feel that they’ve earned it, so they lose it. What the people we don’t hear about do is realise that using the money wisely is an even greater challenge. In rising to it, they have to deal with begging relatives, shady investors and their own greed.

2. So many others have it so much worse.

Without sounding holier than thou, you need reminding that you’re reading this on the internet – a luxury many people can’t afford. Some people don’t have the money, others don’t have the time. Time they need to spend walking twenty miles to school, or caring for sick loved ones. Having perspective makes dealing with your own issues so much easier.
Even people with severe disabilities are showing us at the moment that it’s no barrier to excellence – the Paralympic games are a classic example of the fact that others can have it worse but still create their own opportunities.

3. People will respect you more for it.

How much more impressive is it to hear about somebody who’s become successful despite adversity? That’s why I prefer the origin story of KFC and Colonel Sanders’ plight over that of Burger King, or the Paralympic games over the Olympics. And with respect, of course, comes inspiration. Marathon runner Paula Radcliffe suffers from asthma but still consistently wins races. Knowing that, I can’t use my own asthma as an excuse to not run anymore.

It isn’t entirely healthy to do things just because others will respect you, but if you can inspire and help others it’s a valid reason.

4. You will respect yourself much more for it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You respect things more when you work harder for them. And having the willpower and determination to overcome your obstacles builds momentum. If it’s a smaller problem, you have the confidence to tackle a larger problem. If it’s a large problem that you’ve overcome, others look smaller in comparison.

5. Worrying about something makes it bigger in your mind.

It’s often said that our minds can’t tell the difference between a real event and an imagined one. So if we obsess over a problem we experience all the things that could possibly go wrong and fail to see all the ways it could go well. Worrying is simply a way of suffering because of an event that hasn’t happened yet (or never will).
The only way that worrying can be of help is if you use it to plan ways to overcome the problems your mind has created. If you adopt a problem-solving mindset then worrying loses its emotional hold over you and becomes a tool for success.

6. You have to take responsibility for your own life.

It may not be your fault, but until you accept your issues are your burdens to bear and in your control, you’ll be somebody’s victim. If you approach life with the mindset that you should solve your own problems, you’ll keep progressing with or without others. And any help you receive will be a pleasant surprise.

7. Having limitations never means that there’s no opportunity to improve.

There’s nothing to fear by accepting them and embracing them will open you up to opportunity and creativity instead of denial. Even if you are unable to escape your limitation, you can reduce the effect that it has on your wellbeing. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

5 Reasons Why You Need to Review Your Goals

In Designer Lifestyle on November 21, 2012 at 2:41 pm

 

Using a Diary to Remember the Week

Self-imposed performance reviews are increasingly becoming a part of the corporate world, to allow bosses to see how you’ve been doing without keeping tabs on you, and to keep you mindful of your progress. But these reviews shouldn’t only be necessary in your working life; they should be a weekly standard. It is all well and good to have targets and deadlines for work, but you should have personal goals that you’ve set yourself.

It can be intimidating to evaluate yourself and how you’ve performed recently, but it’s a fear you need to get over if you want to achieve your goals. Goal setting needs both the projection period of settling where you want to be in the future and the reflection period of evaluating how well you’ve met your goals. Today I’m going to focus on reflection. Soon I will deal with projection. Say your long-term goal is to run a marathon. A shorter-term goal would be to run a 10k. The most immediate, if you aren’t a runner, is to go on a certain amount of weekly runs and build from that.

  1. Work in objective measures to your achievements. It’s a good idea to work in how you felt about your goals and how well you thought you did in meeting them, but objective data does better at lasting the tests of time. The Nike+ app records how long you ran for, your distance, your pace, the route, the weather, the running conditions and how you felt about the run. This is a good mixture of objective and subjective recording. When the endorphin rush has worn off and a few days have passed, you might not remember how far you ran, so you need to rely on hard data. But noting how you felt about the run might give you hints about which routes give you the best pace, or make you enjoy the run the most.
  2. Don’t be modest. The only person who is going to be reading this is probably yourself. Likewise, if you’ve performed terribly, don’t try to sugarcoat it. Accurate recording requires a bit of truth from the recorder. It might be hard to accept your failings (or your successes), but acknowledging them will help you build towards a more realistic view of how well you’ve done.
  3. Don’t agonise about grammar, spelling or ‘flow’. This might be something to worry about if writing for somebody else, but this is for you. You’ll understand your own written nonsense, so there’s no need to pretty it up.
  4. Think about areas you can improve upon. Have you been doing certain things that have proven to be ineffective? Try different methods. Have you been lacking motivation? Search for ways to improve efficiency.
  5. Keep at it. Reviewing your performance is only effective if you repeatedly do it. It can be disheartening if you repeatedly fail your self-imposed goals. All that tells you is that you’re being unrealistic with your assumptions and need to go slower. The ‘reality gap’ between the results you want and the legwork it takes you to get there is the leading cause of failing goals. In other words, your desires and your pleasures contradict each other. While you may desire something (say, a fitter body) you’re unable to see the pleasure in the actions you need to get there (running three times a week). Looking back at your progress shows you how far you’ve come towards your goal and can give you the pleasure in your own achievements that you would not have realised had you carried on without direction.

Next, projecting future desires, a.k.a. goal-setting.

10 Unusual Ways to be Happy in Life

In Designer Lifestyle on November 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Being happy. As simple as shaking your head.

Photo courtesy of thiquinho

We all know that there are things you should do to make yourself happier. Often, they’re presented as daunting tasks. Find your soulmate, live a life of passion, do meaningful work to help others… The fact that we know this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll do it. Nor does it make it easier. I try not to think about these difficult, multi-step, goals and focus on smaller, more unusual, ways to be happy when I need a boost.

 

  1. If there is an event that you find traumatic or painful, try writing about it. The natural response is to try to avoid things which make you feel hurt or uncomfortable, but thinking about it in a structured way takes away some of its power over you. 
  2. Focus on the little things that affect your body’s chemistry. Living a life of passion and love is a complicated and multi-step process. Getting to sleep at a reasonable hour and avoiding extremes of blood sugar are not. They are primary building blocks to let you build momentum towards something bigger.
  3. Fake it ’til you make it. This works with happiness and confidence particularly well. In a way similar to the placebo effect, the body starts to rely on something that isn’t really there, and provides the ‘cure’ for your affliction on its own. If you’re lacking confidence or happiness, your body adapts to project it.
  4. Buy experiences, not objects. Life experiences are inherently more social, and they have some element of risk. Successfully navigating risks is naturally thrilling and spending quality time with others is a proven factor for happiness
  5. Think a little more about a new job. Going for the job that will get you the most money won’t necessarily make you happier. Work is where people spend a significant portion of their lives, and taking any job is a decision that should be based on multiple factors. Finding somewhere with people that you get along with, or that works towards a purpose you are passionate about, can be more valuable to your well being than money.
  6. Expand your time. Focusing on the here-and-now can actually slow your perception of time and make you more willing to use that time on activities that will make you happy, rather than hurrying around without the time to please yourself.
  7. Take action. About 50% of your happiness level is genetic, but that’s no reason to assume that you were born, and always will be, an Eeyore or a Tigger. The simple act of doing something to improve your future is (and I try to use this word sparingly) an empowering one. Your material circumstances account for about another 10% of your happiness level. But the rest is within your direct control – how you think and behave.
  8. Lose some friends. 5000 Facebook friends but nobody to confide in? I’m sure you can point to a person like that (but please don’t; it’s rude). If you want to be happy, sometimes you have to make an effort to surround yourself with positive people and get rid of the negative ones. Maybe, once your life is wonderful and nobody can drag you down, you will be able to help them with their lives and lift them up. But don’t sacrifice your happiness for no reason.
  9. Play practical jokes. You have to feed your inner child at some point. There’s a genuine mirth you can create from a joke that everybody can enjoy. Just try to make sure that the fall guy will find it funny too. 
  10. Set stupid challenges for the day. Maybe it’s a competition with a co-worker to see how many times you can say ‘horse’ in conversation with others. Maybe you’re only allowed to walk if you’re whistling (avoid libraries). One of my favourites when on tiled floors is that I can only move like a knight would in a game of chess. They’re silly, and that’s the idea. Adding variety to your day, and taking things less seriously, makes it more enjoyable. Life has a sense of humour; we should too.

7 Tricks to Success

In Organisation on August 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm

The trickiest hand of them all!

Overcoming inertia and actually getting active can be difficult. But there are lazy ways to get things done – you just need to trick yourself into doing it. When logic won’t work, you need to work beyond reason.

1. Remove choice from your path.

If you’ve burnt all your bridges then there’s nowhere to go but onwards, right? This happens a lot when people leave themselves with the night before to accomplish a task. We’re not going to do this. We’re trying to outwit our lazier instincts; not the other way round. If you’re trying to lose weight, remove temptation from your kitchen. If you’re swamped with files, create a system for dealing with it. Nature takes the path of least resistance.

2. Pretend there’s less.

I’m a big fan of Zen to Done. If you start off with the expectation that you’re only going to complete three tasks, then you’re a success whether you achieve that and nothing more, or if you power through a stack of papers the width of your desk. By pretending there’s less you remove the first hurdle to starting – by chopping the day’s work into pieces.

3. Create false deadlines.

Nothing makes me hurry like a deadline. The usual problem is that the deadline is the night before, and one night isn’t enough time. Try the habit of setting your personal deadlines for a few days before the actual deadline, so that the result isn’t a rushed mess. Realise, though, that you can edit the result before your actual deadline. Otherwise you’ll just end up with the same rushed mess, a few days earlier.

4. Tweak your alarm clock.

Set it a bit earlier, every day. Let the time you wake up creep a little earlier daily, until you’ve started to recover the morning for your own. A salute to those of you with iron wills who wake before six. Think of all the slow breakfasts, energising runs and beautiful sunrises you’re missing out on if you’re asleep.

5. Stay mindful.

I’ve known of people who snap an elastic band around their wrists when they have negative thoughts. It’s just a form of conditioning yourself. Staying mindful counteracts those stupid little things we do unconsciously. I can think of plenty of occasions. When you get home after work and switch on the TV without thinking… When your hand creeps into the bag of chocolate without your noticing… If you trick yourself into realising when you’re doing it you’ll be able to stop without using willpower. In the 4-hour body it’s illustrated how, just by consistently tracking your weight, you can unconsciously make the thousands of little decisions that result in losing weight. It’s when we’re in control of those little decisions that we can control the big changes.

6. Become accountable.

Does anybody want to play down the effect that people’s comments have upon us? Even those we’re just imagining? When we know that people are informed of our plans we become more likely to succeed. The factors depend on the person – for me it’s a mixture of fear and stubbornness – but it’s easy to understand. Even when nobody cares, we think they do, and that drives us.

7. Tell yourself a story.

More particularly, a different story. This approach is just adopted from cognitive behavioural therapy – when your own personal narrative is saying something negative, you slowly correct it. To trick yourself, tell yourself that things are different to how you’re perceiving them. If you’re dreading getting started on your manuscript, imagine you’re going to start it with the same enthusiasm that you’d have watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (with deleted scenes, of course). Enthusiasm is all subjective and, ultimately, controllable.

So, next time you need to do something, try tricking yourself into it. Willpower is overrated.

Placebo Effect: A Sweet Pill to Swallow?

In Furtherment on August 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

The role of perception and the brain in physical health is supreme. Evolutionary medicine states that pain, sickness and fever are all evolutionary responses for when the body needs to recover from injury or infection. Looking at it this way, it isn’t hard to believe that the brain can numb pain or reduce a fever if it believes that it should.

A placebo is some sort of ineffective medical treatment that is intended to deceive the patient and take advantage of this response. Patients given a placebo can show a remarkable improvement in condition, despite their lack of actual treatment. The usual treatment is a simple sugar pill, but it can extend to types of placebo surgery, where the patient is put under anaesthetic, left to wake up, and told that the operation was a success.

In fact, it’s theorised that a lot of the usefulness of standard medical treatment can be attributed to the placebo effect. So can we exploit it?

In Robert Wiseman’s ‘59 Seconds’ we learn that study participants who were reminded of the amount of exercise they took on a daily basis altered their beliefs about themselves and their bodies responded to these new beliefs in kind. The participants weren’t required to take part in any kind of fitness programme. In short, merely thinking about exercise and how healthy you are appears to have the capacity to make you healthier.

This experiment shows how powerful human belief can be and how we can harness it for ourselves. Thinking positive thoughts about your body can have positive physical effects upon it, but also vice versa. I don’t want to wander into the realms of the ‘Secret’. This is from a purely physiological and subconscious level. In a way, we’re moving away from the placebo effect, which is based in science, and drifting towards positive thinking and the gratitude attitude. Not that I’m knocking them; I have future posts planned on these phenomena too.

The placebo effect has been exploited in many different ways by people looking to get healthier. In Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Body, he describes how Phil Libin lost 28 pounds of weight in six months by only making one conscious change to his life style; he weighed himself every day. Phil theorised that the awareness of his weight subconsciously affected the thousands of miniscule decisions that he made each day, making him healthier because of it. The same subconscious effect has been exploited by people who choose to chew their food a set amount of times before swallowing it. Not only does this slow you down and make you conscious of the amount that you’re eating; it primes and improves the rest of your digestive process.

There are simple ways to apply these benefits to the exercise of your brainpower, too. Regular reinforcement of how clever you are, or anything else you want to improve, can have a physical effect if you believe it. The joys of neuroplasticity mean that there’s always room for growth. Dedication to some sort of mental training will have an even greater effect; there’s the mental growth from doing the exercises and the reinforcement effect of self-belief.

A good rule of thumb is this; if you want to get better, challenge yourself.

How to Manage an Impossible Situation

In Organisation on July 29, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Are you a castaway?

So here we are. You’ve been thrown in at the deep end. You’re trussed up in a cooking pot as the cannibals start lighting the fire underneath. You’re in an impossible situation and you’ll never get the exact result that you want.

So accept that and drive for the best possible situation you can salvage from the ruins. Maybe you’re mediating between two parties that won’t move an inch. Maybe you’re part of the cast for Lost’s sequel. Closing your eyes and hoping that the problem will go away isn’t what’s going to make the situation more bearable. Standing on your own two feet and making something happen is the way that you’ll find a solution.

Now that you’ve accepted the situation, accept responsibility for it. Maybe it’s not your fault, maybe it is, but if you always rely on somebody else to solve your problems for you, you’re going to be left high and dry the one time they remove their support. Focusing on whose fault the situation is, or ‘blamestorming’, may feel natural, but it’s an unhealthy use of time. If this situation is impossible, you should try to make progress, and make your situation better, as soon as possible. The twin sister of responsibility is proactivity. Accepting proactivity means taking action without the need for obvious stimulus. If you’re stranded on a desert island, the canny survivor starts building shelter not when night’s about to fall and the wind is rising, but as soon as they’ve gathered their bearings.

Establish the facts. Work out the situation you’ve found yourself in, work out the best possible outcome and start working out how to get to it. Don’t jump to conclusions unless there really is no time. Although you should be proactive, effective planning is the best action if you’re in uncertain waters. Ask lots of questions and pay attention to your conclusions. If there are others, ask them. Research. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel; if somebody’s already documented your situation then take heed from them.

What, where, who, which, when, how and why? These questions are your friends when it comes to establishing the facts. Notice that I left how and why until the end. Asking how and why something has happened, or how and why to do something, requires use of the other ‘W’ questions. Asking how and why World War Two happened without knowing what it is, where it occurred, who was involved, which countries fought and when it started would be redundant. There are so many social, economic, political and moral reasons involved that asking how and why first makes you sound like an unhelpful toddler. Asking ‘why?’ to everything may be a philosopher’s staple, but without a grounding in facts your answer will be flimsy.

Check your pockets. If you already have skills or items that will help you then take note of them. It’s important to know what you’ve taken with you to this situation and this includes your attitude. You should be proactive and responsible, but also stable and positive. If you’re hysterical and negative then you aren’t going to be able to act constructively.

If you’re in this situation with others, then examine your hierarchy. Different people are bound to have different skills, but they need organising. If you seem to be the only person who’s proactive and responsible, then offer yourself as the leader. Rather than making an overt coup, start guiding people along a constructive path. If they see you as a leader or not, you’re still managing the situation. As I mentioned before, a person in this position should be stable and positive. If you aren’t, then don’t struggle to be the leader. Gracefully accepting that somebody else is in a better position to lead is the best move in this situation. Try to work on your emotions and attitude so that you can be a greater help to the others.

If you’re dealing with people, then your attitude is of paramount importance. Be calm and professional. Even if you’re dealing with somebody who looks like they’re about to explode with anger, don’t slip to their level and risk losing grip of your logic. But having said that, people don’t always respond to logic. The art of human persuasion is complicated. Great orators and politicians realise that people respond to emotion as well as logic. Usually they respond to it better than logic. So make yourself look as human as possible. It’s easier to ignore or treat people badly when you treat them as a thing, not a person. So add personal details. Create a story that forces them to see you as another person. Maybe they still won’t care, but hopefully they will. In your situation, I assume failure is not an option. So be persistent. A calm, polite and persistent person is much more difficult to ignore than a raging idiot.

So solve the problem. Sadly, I don’t know what it is. But if you’ve approached it properly, harnessed the power of the people around you and adopted the right attitude, the solution should come, given time and effort. Maybe the situation wasn’t impossible after all; you just needed to focus and deal with it. Maybe it was impossible and you need to reach a compromise. And maybe it was impossible and there’s no solution. But with your responsible, proactive, attitude, you’ll have the skills to live with it.

So you’ve reached some sort of solution. Don’t let your guard down and become complacent. Impossible tasks take longer to reach completion than you’d think… And having been in this situation once, you may know how to avoid it a second time.

TL;DR?

  • Take responsibility for yourself and your future. Be proactive and don’t wait for others or external circumstances to move you to action.
  • Start working out your circumstances. Ask yourself and others questions to determine your situation and how to proceed.
  • Use what you already have, be it objects, skills, knowledge or other people.
  • Organise the people around you, try to make them responsible and proactive too. If you aren’t best suited to be a leader, step down gracefully.
  • Harness the power of emotional language to help others relate to you. Stay calm, polite and professional.
  • Go for it.
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