“He gave me the most valuable advice I had ever received. “To make the decision, take the fear out, then you’ll know.”What? How on Earth do you take the fear out? I had lived in fear for the majority of my existence. How do you keep yourself safe if you don’t live in the fear? In fact, fear is safe. It kept me securely in the life I felt like I was suffocating in. I knew exactly what to expect.”
“Relying on social support:
Then I asked myself, “What if I used my resources for emotional support? What if I relied on my friends and family—and what if I relied on myself?” The reversal of the what if’s felt powerful and motivating. And I knew it was possible they could be true.”
“When we tell ourselves lies, it feels awful; when we speak the truth, it is light and freeing. Each truth I spoke felt closer to answering my own question.Not only did I have to identify each fearful “what if,” I had to remove them. This can be done by listing them on paper and crossing them out or simply calling them by name and removing them from the equation like they don’t exist.”
“I saw them each, one by one, stand up to me. There were so many. And then, one by one, I asked them to leave the room. And there came my answer: it was time to let go.”
“And then we become obsessed with our problems. We think about them.All. The. Time.And then we think about them some more.Sometimes my brain actually starts to ache from all this thinking and analyzing. We get exhausted, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And when we realize we are no closer to solving our problems or making a decision, we start becoming more frantic and we flail and panic even more.”
1. Be frantic, flail, panic … then get it out.
Whine to your amazing friends who listen to you patiently with nothing but love and empathy, even though you’ve been putting them through this time and time again.
Then go jogging, go to the gym, go for a swim. Write in a journal. Do something to get all that anger, resentment, fear, and pity out of you.
You’re in over-active child mode right now—tire yourself out.
2. Go spend some time outdoors.
Go for a meander in the woods, walk along the ocean. Observe the birds in action, pay attention to the trees, watch the clouds in the sky. Basically spend some time in nature.
I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something calming about nature. It slows us down. It tires us out (see point 1). It gives us perspective. It shows us that there is more to life than our problems and worries.
3. Do something else.
Worried about whether you should end a relationship? Go learn to play a new musical instrument.
Worried about how you are going to make your mortgage at the end of the month? Go volunteer at your local charity. Or:
Read something uplifting every morning, afternoon and right before going to bed
Watch YouTube clips that crack you up
Write five things you are grateful for every morning
Start a new habit (i.e.: get up an hour earlier, drink more water)
Spend some time cleaning your closet
Offer to babysit for your friends (kids are amazing distracters!! It’s hard to focus on your problems when you are constantly trying to keep them from falling over or hurting themselves)
It doesn’t have to be something drastic. Studies have shown that removing clutter from our surroundings leads to a calmer and clearer state of mind.
Start with one room instead of trying to take on the whole house. Are there any clothes you haven’t worn in years? Be honest and really consider if you’ll ever wear it again.
Personal styles come and go, and there’s no shame in donating something that still has a price tag on it, you’ve only worn a few times, or is uncomfortable due to our beautifully changing bodies.
2. Think twice before you buy.
“If I don’t get this I’m going to regret it tomorrow.” “It’s such a good deal I’d be foolish not to buy it!”
Wait a day to buy whatever you think you need, especially if you hadn’t planned on buying it before you saw it.
More often than not, our concentration is pulled in other directions and we don’t even remember the item we just “had” to have the day before. Or, the prospect of going back to the store is simply not worth it.
3. Be grateful for what you have.
This is by far the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone. There was a day when the servers offered candy for the first time during lunch, and I don’t think I ever enjoyed a small hard candy as much in my entire life.
Being without so much of what I took for granted every day during my meditation retreat (including any chairs with backs!) and during much of my travels led me to realize that focusing on the small things I had made me infinitely happier.
Sleep is something that unfolds naturally. If you ask a good sleeper how they fall asleep, they tell you that they lay their head down and close their eyes—there is no effort to sleep, especially if you have good sleep habits.
For example, when people are sleeping poorly and feeling tired, they often cut back on their activities, lie down to attempt to nap, go to bed early, and/or lay in bed later in the morning.
This makes sense because they feel tired and they may be trying to cast a wide net to catch some more sleep. However, decreasing activity and spending more time in bed in a twenty-four-hour period sends a message to the system that less sleep is needed, and less deep sleep is needed.
Poor restorative sleep can cause or negatively affect pain. Six hours of quality sleep is far more important than eight hours of poor quality sleep.
Avoid doing anything you do while awake, while in bed.
When you cannot sleep and leave the room, you break the association with sleeplessness and the bed. While out of the room you are building sleep deprivation and more drive for deep sleep, so when you eventually return to the bedroom, you have a greater chance of sleeping.We want your bed to be associated with sleep only.
Create a buffer zone between your day’s activities and going into sleep
Any activity that is relaxing but won’t put you to sleep will do. A buffer zone is a transition time between the pressures of the day and relaxing into sleep, so catching up on work, housework, or homework is counterproductive.
Teens or people sensitive to light should probably avoid handheld devices this time, or it can activate their body and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Exercise is fine but for some, vigorous exercise is activating and can delay being able to fall asleep.
When you start worrying whilst lying in bed:
Get out of bed and go to another room. Worries in bed often become non-worries in another room because we become lucid. In fact, worrying in bed pairs the bed with wakefulness and worry, making it more likely that worry will become a habitual problem.
In short, whether the person is aware of it or not, insomnia produces a preoccupation with sleep and fatigue that becomes unhelpful. If we want to resist engaging in effort to sleep, we need to think about it less. We want to sleep to live, but never live to sleep.
“…ask (your)self, “If I could be anything, what would I be in the village? How would I serve others?”. The beauty of asking this question is that we are actually asking who am I? We are getting to know ourselves.
I’ve found that honoring my calling as a writer has been absolutely fundamental in feeling comfortable with myself, and I’m far more able to handle times of loneliness and rejoice in times of connection.”
“…But then the newness faded. My colleagues became familiar to me. My job was less about discovery and more about delivery. My apartment was decorated. I was done being “new.”
I didn’t have any real friends here; nobody I could call and say “hey, let’s hang out together today.” Family were in a completely different country too.
What did I actually want? It was simple. I wanted to have someone I could call and spend some time with. But more than ever, I just wanted engagement, conversation, a spark of chemistry and shared experiences.I didn’t want acquaintances. I wanted real friends—the ones where we shared a mutual respect and just had each others’ back. Simple!
But my security did not come from removing the doubts, but choosing to take action in spite of them.
My journey to finding new friends began with two main themes: the people I knew already, and the things I was interested in doing.I decided I would first ask a few colleagues to have lunch with me. These conversations revealed shared interests, so I asked one colleague to join me at a couture class where we learned to sew dresses. Another colleague and I went indoor-wall climbing.
And that is perhaps the most fundamental lesson from this experience. If I wanted friends, I had to ask for them. It was my responsibility to make the first move. There was no magic pill, no secret formula—just discovering the what and the how…”
1. Take a “flip the penny” hike in the woods. Assign each side as right or left, and then when you come to a fork in the road, flip to see which way you go. (Just make sure you keep track of where you’re going so you don’t get lost.)
25. Spend a day looking for free street performances in the nearest big city. In the summer particularly, there’s a ton!
26. Host your own open mic night and invite all your most talented musician, comedian, and poet friends.
27. Have a culture day—visit a museum on a free day, listen to classical music on the way, and watch a classic movie in the evening.
28. Call your local theater to see if they take volunteer ushers. Many theaters give free tickets to volunteers who either seat guests or clean up post-performance.
29. If you have children, host a family barbecue where the adults catch up while the kids come up with a little show to perform later in the evening. (My favorite childhood memories all involve a show with the cousins!)
30. Use Facebook to get a group together for a flash mob. You’ll need a lot of people—and undoubtedly, this requires work—but it can be a ton of fun to prepare and carry out! Here are 15 flash mob videos to get the creative juices flowing.
Have Fun by Trading
31. Host a clothes swap day where everyone brings clothing and accessories they no longer want, and everyone goes home with something new. (This may be more for the ladies.)
32. Exchange homes for a night. When you’re staying at your friend’s high-rise condo and she’s decompressing in your claw-foot tub, a relaxing night in will have a whole new sense of excitement.
33. Trade gear—let your friend use your bike while you learn to rollerblade.
34. Trade books with a friend and then get together to discuss the most insightful, helpful, or entertaining parts.
35. Have a board game night where everyone brings their favorite game. (Okay, so this is more sharing than trading).
36. Trade your services for someone else’s. Offer to help your painter friend set up a website in exchange for painting your bedroom. It will be a fun, free, productive afternoon!
37. Have a no-money garage sale on a sunny afternoon. List on Craigslist everything that you have that you’d like to get rid of, and include a list of everything you want in exchange.
38. Trade ideas. Ask your friend to share his or her favorite way to spend a day off, then you share yours. You can either do them separately and report back to each other, or do them together on two respective off days.
39. Trade videos with a loved one who lives far away. Each of you plan a day of fun, without telling each other what it will entail. Then go through the day with the intention of creating a joy-filled video to send the other one later that evening.
40. Trade blogs. You host your friend’s blog for a day and let him or her host yours. If you both write about different niches, this is an incentive to try something new so that you can write about it.
Have Fun by Giving Back
41. Create a digital product about something you enjoy and donate the proceeds to charity.
42. Host a free webinar sharing something that you’re passionate about.
43. Sign up to be a volunteer dog walker through the SPCA. (You can also help organize fundraising events, provide general animal care, and assist with grooming, among other things.)
Skimming: Can be especially effective when we already know what information we are looking for. I find this useful for scanning journal articles, which I have to read often. However, if you need more details, I personally find that it can be slightly challenging to get what you need. Another problem I have with skimming is that if I am not focusing on the piece of reading, I “lose my way”.
Using a pointer. Pen/Finger to guide our reading and increase our focus. I personally think this works very well, as I tend to get very distracted when I read something, and the pointer focus my line of vision and makes me read faster. Also, moving the pointer slightly faster than you can read helps our eyes to adjust to a faster speed and stabilizes our natural eye movements.
Increasing perceptual focus. Reading word by word, line by line is time-consuming. Try reading in chunks or clusters of 3-5 words at one go. Try using your pointer to help you, by putting the pointer 2 words into the sentence and ending the pointer 2 words from the end of the sentence.
too much unfocused time degrades your ability to concentrate when you need to
People who do a lot of attention switching, they believe they can focus when they need to, but the reality is they have lost that ability. When you give them a task that requires focus, they perform worse than people that don’t spend a lot of time fragmenting their attention.
If focused concentration is a good workout for your brain, bouncing around distractedly is being a mental couch potato.
If you haven’t actually built up your capability to do that, you’re going to have a very hard time. When you’re checking Facebook all the time on your phone outside of work, that has an impact on your ability to perform the next day when you arrive at the office.
Clear your head
Unresolved issues in your life don’t just distract you; research shows they actually make you stupider…This is known as attention residue
When you are still thinking about other stuff it reduces the amount of mental firepower you have to devote to the task at hand.
The problem the research identifies with this work strategy is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task.
Get the worries out of your head by writing it down… “writing things down deactivates “rehearsal loops” in your brain.”
Why? – When we have something on our minds that is important— especially a To Do item— we’re afraid we’ll forget it, so our brain rehearses it, tossing it around and around in circles in something that cognitive psychologists actually refer to as the rehearsal loop, a network of brain regions that ties together the frontal cortex just behind your eyeballs and the hippocampus in the center of your brain… The problem is that it works too well, keeping items in rehearsal until we attend to them. Writing them down gives both implicit and explicit permission to the rehearsal loop to let them go, to relax its neural circuits so that we can focus on something else.
Write down your plan for how you are going to accomplish those tasks too:
…they could significantly reduce the effect’s impact by asking the subjects, soon after the interruption, to make a plan for how they would later complete the incomplete task. To quote the paper: “Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits.”
Pick the right environment. Choose a spot where you are usually productive and go there. You want to associate focussed work with a particular place…
…top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.
Habits emerge from the gradual learning of associations between an action and outcome, and the contexts that have been associated with them. Once the habit is formed, various elements from the context can serve as a cue to activate the behavior, independent of intention and absent of a particular goal… Very often, the conscious mind never gets engaged.
Use different work spaces for different types of projects you are working on
One way to exploit the hippocampus’s natural style of memory storage is to create different work spaces for the different kinds of work we do… If you’re working on two completely separate projects, dedicate one desk or table or section of the house for each. Just stepping into a different space hits the reset button on your brain and allows for more productive and creative thinking.
Stop being reactive:
Turn off those notifications, email popups etc.
It’s the attention residue problem again. Any time you are reacting to new stimuli it pulls you out of focus. And then that can linger in your head, draining your ability to concentrate on what’s important.
It might seem harmless to take a quick glance at your inbox every ten minutes or so. But that quick check introduces a new target for your attention. Even worse, by seeing messages that you cannot deal with at the moment (which is almost always the case), you’ll be forced to turn back to the primary task with a secondary task left unfinished. The state that almost every knowledge worker spends their day in is a terrible state if your goal is to actually focus with any intensity. I think it’s the equivalent of having a professional athlete who’s coming to most games hungover.
Get your sleep
Not getting enough shut-eye reduces willpower and depletes the self-control you need to avoid bad habits like watching cat videos
And if you’ve missed sleep, you’ve reduced your intelligence.
Focussing also makes you happier:
Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together… The scarcity of attentional resources means that you must consider how you can make and facilitate better decisions about what to pay attention to and in what ways. If you are not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention… So changing behavior and enhancing happiness is as much about withdrawing attention from the negative as it is about attending to the positive.
Focus is a muscle: The more time you spend focusing, the better at it you will get. Don’t give up.
Clear your head: Got concerns? Write them down. Make a plan for how to conquer them. Then get to work.
Location, location, location: Go where you know you’ll get stuff done where there are no distractions.
Stop being reactive: Turn phone notifications off. No interruptions. It all starts and ends with you.
Get your sleep: Or you’ll be dumb and impulsive. More sleep means better performance across the board.