Self-Reliance, Self-Investment

One week into my Awesome 30-Day Push-up Challenge, and I'm ahead of schedule. My arms are a bit sore, but I like to think it counterbalances the four hours I spent at the Charlestown Seafood Festival yesterday.

Focusing on a single goal each month has made for a very motivating year. There's something to the act of zeroing in on one idea that keeps my spirits up. Even if I have a bad day, I can do my 322 push-ups and feel good about it.

It's a constant in a world of things I cannot control.

I experience a similar feeling during National Novel Writing Month, a global movement in which thousands of people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. It's a crazy goal, but it gives you something to hold onto, something to be excited about. I remember having terrible days at work, but finding comfort in the fact that my novel—my characters, my world, my creation—was at home waiting for me.

Making a goal tangible is a huge help. In June and July when my habits were more abstract, I had a harder time sticking to them and staying focused. I felt listless, like I was floating, because I wasn't working with anything concrete. The mind wanders. 50,000 words or 10,000 push-ups, on the other hand, are easy to track. The numbers don't lie.

This realization has been particularly useful to me as a post-graduate. When you're in college, your classes are the primary focus. Graduation is the big, overarching goal. There's a sense of progression as you pass classes and move closer to your degree.

But when you graduate, and there are no more classes, that overarching motivator disappears. For many, the goal of a college degree gets replaced by a job and/or career, but the transition isn't always seamless. Success as an adult doesn't involve going to class over and over until you're done. It requires forging your own path through self-reliance and self-investment.

Committing to the Awesome 30-Day Push-up Challenge has been an anchor for my happiness this month. I know that even if everything else goes wrong, at least I can look back knowing this was the month I did 10,000 push-ups. I'm the only person holding myself accountable, and I'm doing something for myself.

From a Buddhist perspective, attaching my happiness to a push-up challenge may seem unwise. Once the challenge is over, then what? Do I just continue to come up with new challenges ad infinitum, never satisfied, never content?

Well, yes.

See, I'm not actually attaching my happiness to push-ups. I'm attaching my happiness to the betterment of myself. Whether that's doing 10,000 push-ups or writing 50,000 words, having a goal allows me to continually move forward because I have something to move toward.

In the post-college era, it's easy to drift along waiting for someone to hand you your dream job or even just tell you what to do next. But drifting is a trap of passivity. Success never happens that way. That's why self-reliance and self-investment are invaluable tools.

When we take an active interest in ourselves, we take responsibility for our own sense of happiness, of getting better, of becoming who we are.

You are the most reliable person in your life.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Saying Yes to Scary Things

My advisor emailed me to ask if I'd like to give a guest lecture on Middle English lyrics to his Medieval Literature classes in the fall.


Being asked to do something like that is of course an honor and privilege, but it also couldn't be more frightening. Despite the fact that I've written over 20,000 words on the Middle English lyric, in some ways I don't think I could feel less qualified.

But how can I say no to such an opportunity?

Imagine if your favorite musician of all time asked you to join him onstage and jam in concert. Personally, would I vomit? Yes. But you can't say no to that! That's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Saying no may immediately take care of my anxiety and nervousness, but I can only imagine how I would feel afterward, knowing the opportunity is gone forever.

I'm not saying giving a lecture on Middle English lyric poetry is like jamming with Nathan Watts or Victor Wooten, but there's something important about saying yes to scary things.

Merlin Mann guested on Episode 001 of the CMD+SPACE Podcast this week, and it's a fantastic interview that goes deep into the story behind Merlin's online endeavors. While listening to the episode, I was reminded of his Inbox Zero mission statement:

Make the time to be scared of more interesting things.

And that's what it's all about. Giving a lecture is scary. Starting a podcast is scary. Building a website and putting your writing out there is scary. Trying to make a living without a "real job" is scary.

But these are the things that I want to be scared about.

I want to be good enough that my advisor asks me to speak to his class. I want to do podcasts that people love. I want to write things that help them and help me. Being scared of these things sounds infinitely better than being stressed out over a big meeting or a crazed supervisor.

The work I love is unconventional. It's not safe. It's not guaranteed to succeed. It's scary.

But that's what makes it interesting. And that's why I say yes to it.

Have a glorious weekend!

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

An Irreparable Moment

I don’t regret very many things. I can hardly think of any off the top of my head.

I attribute this lack of regret to a conscious decision to think before I act, so as to avoid any regrettable actions entirely.

But sometimes I fuck up.

I only just learned the true significance of something I said almost a year ago. It was awful and insensitive and ignorant, and I can’t take it back. And so now I’m full of regret, reliving that moment over and over again, and finding new pain each time.

I don’t know if a single moment can cause the downfall of a relationship. You could argue that if it wasn’t that moment, it would have been some other moment. But it’s still hard not to wish for it back, to wonder what if it hadn’t happened, and to want to do it all over again.

Of course, the way I’d handle that moment now would be completely different. A way that wouldn’t cause so much irreversible damage. I’m powerless now to convince the person I hurt so deeply that my opinions have changed. It would only seem like an act of desperation.

I always tried to be the most supportive partner I could, and in one bad moment, I wasn’t, and it broke everything down. I can’t think of anything more regrettable.

It’s hard to know what to do with an irreparable moment. You can’t really do anything. All you can do is say, “I’m sorry”, and hope it’s enough. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s enough to move forward, but not enough to go back.

You can’t control what another person thinks. The only thing you can control is you. Once you’ve expressed your regret, you have to let it go and trust that it will be enough. Don’t be a prisoner of the past. Be confident in the fact that you know how you feel now. Whether anyone else chooses to accept that is up to them.

Even though my mistake contributed to the loss of my relationship, and even though that fact kills me, I’m better off having learned from the experience. Whoever comes next will get a better version of me, one that will never make the same mistake again.

Year of the Habit: July

Happy July to you fine folks. We’re halfway through 2012!

Let’s recap the year so far:

  • January: Started flossing every day.
  • February: Stopped biting my nails.
  • March: Attempted to read every day. Unsuccessful. Currently reading The $100 Startup.
  • April: Health nut month. Was Primal 80% of the days in April.
  • May: Tracked all of my expenses via Saver.
  • June: “No Wasted Days”. This was an abstract goal, and so it’s hard to quantify the results. Still, I consider it a success.

Here’s why:

  1. I moved out of my parents’ house, which has largely been a boon to my personal productivity. As I mentioned in that post, being out from under my parents’ protection has been instrumental in lighting the fire under my ass. I’m buying my own groceries. Cooking my own food. Doing my own laundry. It’s all very grownup like. The complacency of living at home is gone, and being on my own is much more conducive to getting things done.
  2. I’m in a band. Finally. About a month ago, I had a million dollar idea: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Facebook for musicians?!” I googled it, and of course, there is one. So I signed up and got a message about a week later for a local band looking for a bass player. Despite the fear of meeting up to audition with strangers, I learned the songs, met my fellow bandmates, and we hit it off. I’m thrilled to actually be in a band and playing music with people for the first time after ten years of playing bass. We’re rehearsing throughout the summer, and we plan to gig in the fall.
  3. I have a kick ass music podcast. Yes, this is sort of old news, but I’m really proud of it, and it’s still going strong. I’m not sure why you haven’t subscribed in iTunes yet.
  4. My advisor has declared my thesis “just about done”, which is huge. Stand by for more on that soon.
  5. I created the QLE VIP Mailing List and 25 Things: The Quarter-Life Enlightenment Manifesto. This is the first step in kicking QLE into high gear and making it better than ever. I’m sure you know this, but QLE VIPs are the people who care about the site the most and want to be the first to know about the latest cool stuff going on here. If you sign up (it’s free), you’ll get 25 Things as a thank-you present. And I’ll love you forever.
  6. I’ve begun collaborating with some brilliant folks on the Internet, which I’m both incredibly humbled by and excited about. Since beginning QLE last year, one of my main focuses has been to develop relationships with people and be somebody people wouldn’t mind doing something with. I can’t say much about what’s going on behind the scenes yet, but stay tuned.

When I look at the big picture and ask myself, “I’m 25. What am I doing with my life right now?” My answer is: I’m teaching karate, which I love; I’m playing music, which I love; I’m writing, which I love; I’m podcasting, which I love; and I’m doing it all out there on my own. I’m not saying I’m a paragon of success — far from it, and there’s still a long way to go — but it’s hard not to be content with and grateful for who I am right now. I’m still reaching for things, of course, and there are still things I want to achieve and things I wish I had… But those will come sooner or later, as long as I don’t give up. You can’t fail if you don’t give up.

So. Anyway.

In the interest of continuing to move forward and be awesome, July is going to be another abstract sort of habit.

I call it “Looking Outward”.

Sometimes, the solution lies within us and can only be accessed by creating an oasis of quiet. I’ve been trying to do this a lot lately.

However, I think that just as often, the solution lies outside of ourselves… but we’re often to busy looking inward to notice.

One of the things I tell my junior karate instructors is that you have to look outward if you’re going to be a good teacher. When you’re first starting out, you’re usually worrying about yourself: Am I saying the right things? Do I look stupid? Are the kids bored? Did I mess up?

You’re so busy worrying about YOU that you don’t even notice how the class is doing, which makes it very difficult to teach well. You have to stop blindly focusing on what you’re doing and look outward, at the students. When you do that, you’ll notice who needs help, and that will tell you what you need to teach. The lesson will unfold naturally from there.

I’m going to try to be a better observer this month. I’ll let you know what I see.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Movin' Out

My internet colleague and cohost, Richard J. Anderson, on The Big Move:

Once again, I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. I certainly don’t want ten times more of what I have now. For God’s sake, I am ready, at least, to be scared shitless and stop doing what I am expected to do, and go do something new and different.

I moved out of my dad’s house this weekend.

I’ve been writing this website for eleven months, and I’ve always neglected mentioning that I lived at home, primarily out of shame. Not that I don’t love my parents — of course I do — but no twenty-five-year-old wants to admit he lives in his parents’ basement, no matter how nice a basement it is. (And mine was really nice.)

I graduated from college in 2009 and then immediately went to grad school. Because I was still a student and living on a paltry graduate intern salary, I moved back home. The initial plan was that I’d move out six months after graduation, but because my thesis is taking for-freaking-ever, those lines got blurred. Eventually, my dad and I agreed that June 1 would be the deadline.

It was a benevolent and mutually agreed upon deadline. My parents wanted me to leave the nest and spread my wings, and I wanted to not live in my parents’ basement anymore. So it’s a good thing. Kind of scary. But a good thing.

Living at home is a double-edged sword. It’s very comfortable; food, shelter, love… Everything is provided for you. But because of this comfort, complacency inevitably follows. There’s no sense of urgency when you live at home. Sure, you know you need to move out and do something with your life, but there’s no one threatening to break down your door if you don’t. You’re safe. Protected.

And why shouldn’t you be? That’s what home is. But while home is a wonderful thing, it’s not the best environment for getting to where you want to be.

Sometimes the fire under one’s ass is best lit by fear.

While I was living in my parents’ basement, I found it very hard to be productive. I got my blog posts written, but did little else in the way of creating. I certainly couldn’t work on my thesis. I was home. I was comfy. Too comfy. There’s my couch, and my computer, and my books, and my television, and my basses. I can’t do work right now. No way. I’ll do work later.

I was trapped in this vicious cycle of comfortable complacency, and it depressed the shit out of me.

And so begins Phase One of starting my life as independent.

I’m staying with a good friend for the summer. The bed is loud. The birds are loud. The sun is bright in the morning. It’s not my house.

But it’s a start.

It’s a start because, now that I’m out of the house — scared, vulnerable, uncomfortable — there’s a sense of urgency. This is the real deal.

I’m out from under my parents’ roof. I’m exposed to the elements. It’s up to me to decide what I’m going to do today to get to where I want to be.

It’s survive or die.

And I’m not going to die.

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Year of the Habit: June

It’s June 1, and that means a new habit.

But first, the year in review:

I actually don’t have much to say about May’s habit. I was successful. My most expensive area was Auto, which comprised about a third of my spending. I only filled up with gas twice though, which pleases me. The Payments category took up another third of my spending, mainly due to student loans, which I’ve now consolidated. Food came in next at 10%. I ate out four times last month, not all of which were necessary, but not bad overall.

I’m pleased to report my number of unnecessary expenses was fairly low. I did buy a couple of t-shirts, which are my guilty pleasure. I spent a bit of money on Mother’s Day, and a little on personal items. I spent $23.90 on ten apps in iTunes, which I suppose is a lot. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my spending habits, and I’m going to continue tracking expenses in the coming months.

Bonus Habits

These are additional habits I’ve picked up along the way this year.

  • Writing every day.
  • Taking cold showers.
  • Working out regularly, including doing yoga every day in April. This is an area where I’ve fallen off the wagon. Since the 30-Day Challenge ended, I’ve been reduced to going to yoga once or twice a week, which I’m not happy about. Subsequently, I’ve also lost most of my early rising habit. I’m not sleeping as late as I used to, but I’m nowhere near waking up at 6:30 AM every day as I did in April. I’ve let my thesis flounder as well. This is obviously due to a lack of self-discipline on my part, and I’m working on it.

Which brings us to June.

I’m unhappy about losing my early riser habit and the resulting drop in productivity. With that in mind, in June I’m going to try something I’m calling “No Wasted Days”.

What’s that mean?

I’m going to try to get something done every day in June. I’m going to try to make every day worthwhile. Whether that’s working on my thesis, or QLE, or exercising, or learning new music, I want to put my time to good use on a daily basis.

At the end of each day, I want to be able to able to say, “Today I did something that will help me get to where I want to be.”

Even though this habit seems vague, it’s something I feel I need to focus on right now. I’m about to undergo a major lifestyle change, which I’ll discuss in more detail next week, and it’s going to require that I bring my A-game. Shit’s about to get real, as they say.

Thank you so much for reading, have an exceptional weekend, and I’ll see you guys Monday.


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Favorite Apps: Ritual

I came across an app this week that makes a perfect companion to the Seinfeld productivity method.

It’s called Ritual.

Ritual helps you commit to your New Year’s resolutions, establish new habits, and keep track of your weight, spending, working hours, and more.

The app features a beautiful split-pane interface. On the left is a sort of linear calendar. On the right is the daily view, where you input the habits you want to track, like “Take vitamins”, “Eat healthy”, or “Exercise”.

If you complete your ritual, you check the box next to that habit. As time goes on, the calendar on the left gets filled with checkmarks to show you how many days in a row you’ve done your habit.

After you’ve been tracking for a few days, you can tap each habit to view graphs and charts of your progress.

When adding new habits, you have the option of making them “Yes/No” habits or “Number” habits. The Yes/No variety is self-explanatory: Did you work out today? Check for Yes, leave unchecked for No.

If you use a Number habit, you input the value for whatever your habit is. Say you want to do push-ups. Ritual lets you track how many you perform each day. You can also use this feature to track your weight or spending over time.

Ritual is pretty sparse in the settings department, but you can set reminders, and you can export your data via an email spreadsheet.

I won’t be using Ritual to track my expenses, as I prefer the functionality of a dedicated finance app. However, it has earned a spot on my second home screen as a way of staying focused and doing my habits every day. I was using a desk calendar for this purpose last month, but Ritual allows me to track my habits on-the-go, and I can add as many as I want. It’s simple, beautiful, and useful.

You can get Ritual for $1.99 on the App Store.

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Year of the Habit: May

Mayday! Mayday!

Welcome to the fifth installment of The Year of the Habit 2012.

As is customary, let’s review the year so far before revealing May’s habit.

  • January: Started flossing every day.
  • February: Stopped biting my nails.
  • March: Attempted to read every day. Mostly unsuccessful. Currently reading Buddhism Plain & Simple and The Art of Expressing the Human Body.
  • April: Health nut month. With the help of the Seinfeld productivity method, I was able to chart my healthy and unhealthy days quite easily. I had six unhealthy days in April, all of which occurred on either a Saturday or a Sunday, and most of which were special occasions (birthdays, christenings, etc.). My longest streak was seven healthy days in a row. Twenty-four healthy days out of thirty total means I was Primal 80% of the time, which I’m happy with overall. Coincidentally, that ratio exemplifies the 80/20 principle, which suggests that shooting for perfection usually lands you somewhere around an 80% success rate. I would have preferred it to be slightly higher, but 80/20 is a good balance, and visually representing my eating habits visually was a valuable experience. Weekends are obviously the most challenging days to eat well, while I’m able to remain in healthy mode throughout the week. In general, I’m considering April a success.

Bonus Habits

In addition to my monthly goals, I’ve also adopted some bonus habits that have made a huge difference in my 2012 so far. These include:

As I’ve said before, these unplanned habits speak to the power and momentum of small changes.

What’s Next? Dollar Dollar Bills, Y’all.

May is money month.

I’m actually a little nervous about this one, because numbers are evil, but it’s a step I need to take. My thesis is very close to done, and soon my singular focus will be on ways to make sufficient income.

But what makes one’s income “sufficient”? Well, that’s what I intend to figure out.

During the month of May, I’m going to be tracking all of my expenses.

This habit will provide me with several useful bits of insight:

  1. By knowing how much I spend in a month, I’ll know approximately how much I need to make to live.
  2. I’ll be able to identify needless spending that has hitherto gone unnoticed.
  3. I’ll be more mindful about how I spend my money knowing that it’s going to be recorded.
  4. I’ll be able to use my spending data to develop a budget for the future.

Of course, I’ll be using an iOS app to track all of my expenses. I’m going to start with Saver, but I also plan on testing out a few others. I’ll let you know of my favorites.

May is going to be a challenge in the sense that this is one habit I don’t love. Unlike trying to eat healthy or write every day, which were fun and enjoyable, I’m not looking forward to seeing where my money goes. But, it’s necessary, and I’m sure the experience will be enlightening.

And that’s what we’re all about, isn’t it?

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The Beauty of Being Wrong

The fact that I’m doing yoga at 7 AM every morning still blows my mind.

It’s been two weeks since I became an early riser, and I love it just as much as I did on day one. The quiet solitude of the morning, the sense of having so much more time, the increased exposure to sunlight… All so wonderful.

But, for all its awesomeness, this change has created something of a splinter in the back of my mind.

The Stubborn Night Owl

You see, for years I was convinced of my own superiority as a night owl. It appealed to my introverted nature, and I liked the rebelliousness of staying up and sleeping late. I associated early rising with convention. Getting up at 8 AM, driving to a cubicle, sitting there all day, and then driving home exhausted and horrified at having to do it all over again tomorrow — it seemed like no way I’d ever want to live. If it works for you great, but I knew it wasn’t for me.

It still isn’t, at least when it comes to the sitting-in-a-cubicle-all day part. But fortunately, I’ve avoided — by both choice and design — that sort of existence.

Instead, I get up with the sun, practice yoga, make tea, read, and then write and make things. It’s a routine with which I’ve quickly become obsessed.

What’s given me pause, though, is the fact that I was so wrong about night owlism. Actually, no; I wasn’t wrong about night owlism so much as I was wrong about being an early riser.

I still think being a night owl is great, and people who prefer that lifestyle should continue to live it as long as it helps them grow and do what they want to do.

Unfortunately, staying up late and sleeping in every morning was paralyzing me. My creativity and productivity stagnated. I was stuck in an incredibly depressing rut, and the only way out was to make a drastic life change: to start getting up early.

I see now just how wonderful being an early riser can be. It’s not painful at all — provided you’re getting your required amount of sleep — and it opens up a whole new world you may have forgotten existed. I certainly did. It truly is life-changing.

Of course, one could easily reverse my story and get the same benefits. Someone who is forced to rise early every morning and go to a job they hate and come home exhausted could, in theory, quit, start their own business, and sleep until mid-morning before doing the work they love all day and late into the night.

It works both ways, and I make no claims that one is better than the other. The best one is the one that works for you.

But, back to my splinter.

What Do I Know?

The feeling I’m experiencing now is that I was wrong.

Wrong in the sense of thinking one way was better than the other, and wrong in thinking I could never become an early riser. Ever. I never wanted to, never thought it would be good for me, never even entertained the idea.

I was a proud night owl. Stubbornly proud.

And yet, here I am.

And so I find myself thinking, “If I was wrong about that, I might be wrong about other things too. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Maybe minimalism isn’t healthy?

Maybe politics are important?

Maybe sports do have value?

Maybe being an introvert isn’t better?

These are scary thoughts, because my identity is ingrained in these possibly incorrect notions. If I’m wrong about them, then part of my identity is lost and/or needs to be rebuilt.

Being wrong is scary.

But, like anything, the solution lies in perspective.

First off, people grow and change. This is for the better. I might be telling my kids someday, when they’re groaning and hiding under the covers at 10 o’clock in the morning, how I used to love to sleep in when I was younger, until it stopped working for me. And that’s the thing:

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. If it’s not, change it.

Minimalism works for me. Being apathetic about sports works for me. These things, at the very least, do me no harm.

I thought being a night owl was working for me, and for a long time, it was. But, then it stopped. When my life changed — when theses and job hunts and apartments and writing and responsibilities became the focus — I needed to change too. Staying up late was not helping me write my thesis or become any more of an adult. I was stuck. I wasn’t growing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of staying up late. But, I was wrong to think I could keep doing it and still get to where I wanted to be. I couldn’t. So, I had to reevaluate and change my habits.

Not a Thing

There’s a deeper aspect to being wrong as well, one that I wrote about long ago. It’s the know-nothing principle.

The know-nothing principle is a solution to the fear of being wrong. The fear of being wrong grows out of being so attached to your ideas that you become unreceptive to new information, which might contradict or disprove your ideas.

“I am a night owl, and it works for me” was my idea. I knew night owlism was better. I shunned the notion of early rising out of fear that it might in fact be superior to my idea. I did not assume the know-nothing principle when it came to sleep schedules. As such, I was unable to see the benefits of an idea different from my own, and in turn it took me a long time to realize that my stubborn adherence to my own idea was causing me to stagnate.

It was only when I stopped being closed off, when I became open to the idea of early rising that I was able to adopt it and change for the better.

By being open to alternative ideas, by thinking of them not as wrong, but merely as different, and by being willing to try them, we free ourselves from being prisoners of our own ways of thinking.

And so, this experience of being “wrong” does not fill me with the fear that I might be wrong about everything. Rather, being wrong is humbling. It’s a reminder that I know nothing. I had forgotten that, and so I had become attached to my ideas. And of course, I was hurt when life reminded me that my idea wasn’t the only way.

The past two weeks have reminded me of the importance of an open mind. An open mind frees you from the fear of being wrong. You don’t have to cling to one idea or another, and you don’t have to jump to defend it from anyone who thinks differently than you.

As Socrates said:

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.

I thought I knew something about sleep schedules. But, it turns out I don’t know the first thing about them. And that makes me smile.

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That Week I Changed My Life

On the evening of March 31, I took the long way home — as I do — and decided that it was time to make a drastic, life-changing decision.

What lead me to this point?

Thesis Bound

Lately, I’ve been struggling with remembering who I am, which in large part has been a side effect of my inability to finish my thesis.

Not having my thesis done was paralyzing me. I felt guilty about not having it done, and I also felt unable to concentrate on anything else, like job hunts, apartment searches, important work, etc.

I could not move forward until my thesis was finished.

A thesis is like an anchor, weighing you down and serving as your one final — but incredibly strong — tie to academia. It’s the last remaining bond between student life and the real world.

In some ways, it’s comforting. You’re still a student. The full pressures of adulthood do not yet apply to you. But, it’s debilitating for the same reasons. You’re still a student. All you have to show for it is a couple of degrees, a lack of direction, and no career.

My Fault

My inability to finish my thesis had been due to a lack of discipline. I work in the evenings, and I’m a night owl. I love to stay up late and sleep in.

When it comes to getting out of bed in the morning, a thesis is perhaps the least effective motivator of all time.

I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning and sleep until lunchtime, only to spend another hour in bed catching up on the day’s news on my iPhone. If I was lucky I’d find the strength to exercise in some fashion before having lunch and going to work in the afternoon.

Sounds luxurious, but it sucked.

I was in a rut, paralyzed by a routine of ignorance and complacency, ignoring who I wanted to be and just waiting for things to get better. I would fantasize about how awesome my life was going to be, and then I’d wait for it to happen.

Until I realized waiting doesn’t work.

Survey Says

Several stars aligned that last weekend in March, which helped me to reverse my downward spiral.

The first was that my yoga studio was about to start a 30-day challenge for the month of April. Hot yoga, Monday–Friday, 7–8 AM; your choice of weekend classes.

I had no intention of doing the challenge. I wanted to, but I told myself I couldn’t do it.

I work too late. I don’t know how to go to bed early. I’m literally miserable in the morning. I’m a stubbornly proud night owl. Let the cheery morning people do it.

However, that weekend I had to work my monthly Saturday shift, which consisted of teaching eight three- and four-year old boys how to do karate at 8:30 in the morning. So, I was up early. Not by choice, but I was up early.

On Sunday, I decided to go to yoga at 9 AM because my schedule had changed, and I was no longer able to attend my Thursday night class. I like to practice yoga at least twice a week, so I went to bed at a decent hour Saturday night, and made it to yoga the next morning. Up early again, this time by choice.

I’d risen early two days in a row, which is a rare thing.

Which brings us back to my Sunday night drive.


As I cruised along my familiar route, I listened to no music, no podcasts. I thought long and hard about the challenge, my thesis, and my life. And then I realized…

This is the only way you’re going to get your thesis done.

This is the only way to free yourself.

This is the only way to move forward.

That was nine days ago.

Since that night, I’ve woken up at 6:25 AM. Every morning.

I’ve done yoga from 7–8 AM. Every morning.

I’ve come home, enjoyed a cold shower, gotten dressed, made tea, and read. Every morning.

I’ve been at the library when it opens, worked on my thesis, and written for three hours. Every morning.

This routine has turned my life upside for the better.

When I say it was a life-changing week, I don’t mean to be hyperbolic. My productivity, mood, and sense of self-worth have increased ten-fold. I’ve been a proud night owl for as long as I can remember, and here I am getting up with the sun every day. I never thought it could happen, and I never thought it would matter.

It did, and it does.

I love it.

Freedom Found at Dawn

When my alarm goes off in the morning, it’s cool, calm, and quiet. There’s a sense of solitude, which is what I crave and thrive on.

When I practice yoga at 7 AM, I take care of my body. I get my exercise out of the way, first thing, and I feel energized for the rest of the day. If I want to do more exercise later, great. If not, it’s no big deal.

I get home, and it’s still only 8 AM. The whole day still lies ahead, and I feel like I’ve already gotten so much done. The library doesn’t open until 10 AM, so I take my time. I relax. I enjoy the shower. I shave mindfully instead of in a rush. I have time to make green tea. I sit by the window with my iPad, reading my favorite sites or equally amazing things in Instapaper.

I drive to the library at 10 AM. It’s about a ten-minute drive; just enough to enjoy some music or listen to one of my favorite podcasts. It’s beautiful outside. Springtime. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and infinite, and the clouds are fluffy. The roads are mostly quiet, as the morning rush has ended. It’s been an amazing day, and it’s only 10 AM.

I take my usual cubicle in the library, in the corner by the window. I’m surrounded by books and people in pursuit of knowledge. I power up my Mac and work on my thesis, fifty minutes at a time. I take breaks, stand up, and stretch. It feels good to put my head down and power through the work. I keep adding words and pages. I feel like I’m making it better, and I feel like I’m getting better in the process.

I feel like I’m working toward where I want to be.

Around 1 PM, I stop working on my thesis — even if I want to keep going. I make a note of where to start tomorrow. I preserve the momentum. Then, I write something for this website, which I love to do. I take an idea I’ve been formulating, and allow it to become manifest. It’s a reward for typing about Middle English lyrics for the last three hours. The words seem to come easier, writing about things I love. I finish the draft. It’ll be reread and revised later on before being queued for publication. I feel accomplished.

And it’s only 2 PM.

I go home for lunch, feeling exceptional. Guilt-free. Productive. Healthy. Confident. I can eat mindfully, without rushing. After, I leave for work on time, or work out, or relax, depending on the day. So much has already gotten done; everything else that happens today is just gravy.

Life feels remarkable.

The biggest challenge is going to bed early, because I do work until 9 PM some nights. But, I manage to be in bed around 10 PM. I either read, or treat myself to some Netflix on my iPhone. And I’m excited to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

The first night, I couldn’t fall asleep until 1 AM because I was still so energized from the day, starting with yoga that morning. I thought I would be exhausted all the time, but I’m not. It’s bizarre to say, but sleep feels like such a small part of my day. I used to stay up until three, four, five in the morning, messing around on the computer, playing on my iPad in bed. I can’t work on my thesis at home because it’s too comfortable. Too many distractions. Even writing for QLE was a challenge, especially if starting something from scratch. Then I’d sleep until I woke up, and lie in bed until I had to get up. And somehow, I’d still be tired.

Now, I just sleep to rest. To recharge for the next day. Sleep is a way of fast-forwarding to tomorrow and all the joys it’s sure to hold.

I can’t stress enough how important this change has been for me. I know it’s only been a short time since I’ve made the transition, and I’m still mindful of it every day. I don’t want to lose this routine or take it for granted. It will take many more of these days before it becomes habit.

I never thought I’d say it, but becoming an early riser is the best change I’ve made for myself this year. While I love being a night owl, it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t helping me grow or move forward. But now, it’s the exact opposite. Everything’s changed. I was stuck, and now I’m moving forward.

I was paralyzed, and now I’m free.

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Year of the Habit: April

Happy April! Don’t you love it when the first of the month falls on a Sunday?

I’m ultra excited about this month’s habit, but first, let’s recap the year so far:

  • January: Started flossing every day, and still going strong! Can’t wait to stick it to my dentist.

  • February: Stopped biting my nails, also still going strong! I’m almost at the point where I feel like I can say “I used to bite my nails”, which is crazy.

  • March: Attempted to read every day. This was somewhat of a failure, as I couldn’t bring myself to get in bed early enough to read every night, even for five minutes. Alas, The Shadow of the Wind remains unfinished. However, I did manage to read two books last month: Enough by Patrick Rhone (exceptional; see my review here) and Minimalist Business by Ev Bogue. In addition, my good buddy Rich and I just started reading Catch-22, and I think treating the book as a joint-venture will yield a particularly fruitful reading experience.

I’ve also picked up some Bonus Habits along the way, which were not assigned to a particular month. These include publishing Monday–Friday, and going to the library on a semi-regular basis to work on my thesis — which is almost done.

Before my 25th birthday, I was also adhering to a strong workout routine every day. Since my 25th birthday, however, my dedication to my usual diet and exercise regimens has been unsteady.

That brings us to April. It’s beach season!

That’s right; April is going to be health nut month.

There are several tools and sub-habits I’m going to implement this month, most of which I’ll relate to you in future posts this week.

As you know, there are two components to healthiness: diet and exercise. I’m going to focus especially on the diet aspect during April because 80% of your body composition is determined by your diet. Part of the reason I burned out on my last workout regimen was that I tried to do too much. I was exercising six days a week at home in addition to yoga and karate classes. That’s unsustainable.

Eating garbage guilt-trips you into working out for four hours every day. It’s much easier to eat well and exercise spontaneously, when you feel like it. Exercise should be fun and invigorating, not exhausting.

I’m going to be Primal as much as possible this month, but of course, you can’t be perfect all the time. In particular, I have my monthly Manference dinner, Easter, and my little cousin’s birthday this month, all of which will present culinary hurdles. But, that’s OK. Remember the 80-20 principle. By identifying my potential fat days in advance, I’ll be able to anticipate them and act accordingly over the course of the month.

Furthermore, I’m going to use the Jerry Seinfeld Don’t Break the Chain method to track my healthy eating days. Seeing how many days in a row you can perform your habit is an excellent strategy, and it’s worked quite well for me so far this year.

How’s your Year of the Habit going?

For more about my health regimen, see the following at Mark’s Daily Apple:

  1. Primal Blueprint 101
  2. The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan
  3. 10 Real-Life Reasons Why the Primal Blueprint Works for Me

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How to Guarantee a Future You Love

A line from Seth Godin’s post yesterday resonated with me:

“Everything will be alright” is not the same as “everything will stay the same.”

The distinction here is that, for things to be alright, things often need to change. As Einstein reminded us, you can’t keep doing what you’re doing and expect a different result. That’s insanity.

I often say some variation of “Everything will be alright”, which is a statement I believe. But, it’s also important to recognize that it’s not a passive sentiment.

For everything to be alright, you have to choose to be alright. To some degree, yes, time heals wounds, but much of that healing has to come from within. Other people might help, but most of the responsibility is on you. You have to choose to be OK.

Sometimes we forget who we are and who we want to be. Sometimes we have a goal for so long that we become complacent and numb to it. We forget that achieving that goal isn’t simply a matter of waiting around long enough for life to hand it to you. That’s helping things stay the same.

You can’t just sit around and wait for someone to hand you your dream job. People — employers — don’t care about you. They don’t care that their job would be a lifesaver for you. They don’t care that you’d be able to get your own place, and pay off your student loans, and start your own career and your own life. They don’t care because they don’t know. They don’t know who you are.

You’re just a résumé — and they don’t care about your typography skills.

The longer I try to fit into a neat, socially acceptable box, trying to find something that will allow me to both pay rent and not sell my soul, the greater my suspicion that perhaps it would be better to create my own something. Perhaps it would be better to not try and live someone else’s life.

The more I put my future at the mercy of others, the more things stay the same. And, everything staying the same is not the same as everything turning out alright.

The only way to guarantee a future you love is to build it for yourself.

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Year of the Habit: March

Happy March to you and yours!

Last month, I declared 2012 to be the Year of the Habit, the goal of which is to facilitate more effective New Year’s resolutions by making one small change each month, rather than trying to reinvent yourself overnight.

Here are my 2012 habits so far:

  • January: Started flossing every day. I’m pleased to report that this is still in effect. I can’t shower without flossing. Take that, scolding dental hygienist.

  • February: Stopped biting my nails. I’ll spare you the photographic evidence, but this has also been going very well. Scratching itches is exponentially more satisfying. I need to cut them because they’re new and subsequently fragile, plus they’re getting in the way of my bass playing. I also still feel the urge to bite, so I’m going to stay mindful with this one.

As an aside, I’ve found that concentrating on these habits also inspires me to make positive changes in other areas of my life, even though they’re not “official” Year of the Habit changes. Specifically, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing and publishing every week day, and I’ve also developed a workout routine that I’ve been diligently adhering to for several weeks now. These “bonus habits” speak to the momentum of small changes. Even a little change can make you feel great and inspire you to get better.

That brings us to March, also known as the month of the gods. After careful consideration — and in the spirit of Dr. Seuss’s birthday — I’ve decided to make reading my habit for the month.

Since buying my Kindle, I’ve been reading a lot more, but my consistency leaves something to be desired. I’m constantly reading on the Web, but I’d like to dedicate more time to reading actual books (on my Kindle).

I’m going to keep it simple and focus on reading for at least a few minutes each day, usually before bed. I only read one book at a time, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing The Shadow of the Wind.

My favorite part of finishing a book is choosing which one to read next, and this reading habit will be a great help in that department.

How’s your Year of the Habit going? What small change are you making for March?

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Year of the Habit

The problem with New Year's resolutions is that people try to do too much too fast. A little self-improvement to go with the new year is great, but declaring you'll eat healthy, exercise more, wake up earlier, finally write that novel, and be a better person all at the same time is too much to manage. Transforming into your ideal self overnight is impossible, and that's one reason so many New Year's resolutions fail.

When it comes to getting better, baby steps are often much more effective than huge leaps. You can't just decide to start waking up at 5am if you're used to sleeping until 10:30am. At least, I can't. Waking up a few minutes earlier every day, however, makes it much easier. It's what Merlin refers to as "fresh starts and modest changes".

But uh, Andrew. It's February. No one cares about their New Year's resolutions anymore.


I didn't really have a resolution this year, or if I did, I can't remember what it was now. However, I did manage to develop a couple of new habits in January.

The first was to publish something original five days a week. This will be my fourth straight week of publishing an original piece Monday through Friday, and it feels really good. I've been sticking to a routine of writing at night and auto-posting every morning at 4:30am. This allows those of you who are email subscribers to wake up with a new article in your inbox each morning. Keeping to this schedule helps both of us; it helps me write consistently, which helps you read consistently.

(Side note: I just updated the email newsletter template, so it's much nicer to look at. If you haven't subscribed yet, it's a great way to stay up-to-date. You'll never miss an article and won't have to remember to visit the site every day. Click to subscribe via email.)

Earlier last month, I also wrote about how I was trying to develop a flossing habit by using Plackers in the shower. This has been going very well, to the point where I feel weird if I don't floss at least once a day. Mission accomplished. Take that, dental hygienist.

Flossing is a tiny little thing, but because it's a small change and I made it as easy as possible to achieve, I had little trouble turning it into a habit. Sources say that thirty days is a good benchmark for developing new habits. If you can do something for thirty days, it becomes part of your routine. Plus, saying you'll do something for thirty days sounds much easier compared to telling yourself to change for the rest of your life. With this in mind, I introduce to you:

2012: The Year of the Habit

I've decided to ingrain a new habit each month this year by focusing on one thing at a time. A little change every month doesn't sound too hard, right? For February, I've stopped biting my nails. I've tried to do this several times before, but never using the thirty-days method.

I'm confident I'll be able to get through it, and I look forward to choosing a new habit in March. If you make one new habit a month for twelve months, then you'll be a whole new you when 2013 rolls around.

I'll be keeping you updated of my progress as the month goes on. If you'd like to pick a habit of your own, or restart one of your resolutions, then let me know on Twitter! Having people to hold you accountable is a big help. Strength in numbers!

Have a great week.

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Getting It Wrong the First Time

In elementary school, all of my teachers seemed to have the same poster, detailing the Ten Rules of the Classroom. I only remember the first two: “Follow directions the first time given” and “Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself”. Being the little nerd that I was, I was pretty good at following rules, but I always prided myself on that first one. I was damn good at following directions the first time given, mostly because I hated getting in trouble. I still am, and I still do.

Sixteen years of martial arts training has further taught me the importance of following directions, or more accurately, the value of precision and attention to detail. I frequently tell my students that an attention to detail is what separates an average martial artist from a great one. You need to know if that’s supposed to be a back punch or a thrust punch. You need to know how your weight should be distributed in a certain stance. You need to know what part of your foot you’re using to kick the imaginary bad guy in the face. These things matter. It’s the difference between an effective kick and broken toes.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to contribute a guest post to another website, the author of which I respect very much. I was thrilled and grateful. I labored over my article — writing, reading, rewriting, rereading — wanting, as I always do, to get it right the first time.

Eventually I was satisfied and sent it off. I was proud of what I had written and excited to share it with others. I got a response back a little while later with his feedback, and my heart sank a little.

I got it wrong.

I opened the email, and I winced as my eyes glossed over a few critical phrases. Nothing mean, of course, but what I had written wasn’t what he was looking for. I had missed the point, even though I didn’t quite understand how.

After a moment, I realized that the way I reacted to this criticism was crucial. I could have been argumentative. I could have been defensive. No one likes to be criticized, and I knew my piece was good.

But I also knew that taking this feedback graciously was the only way to get better. Not only would it make my article better, but it would make me a better writer. My piece was, for all intents and purposes, well-written. It just wasn’t what he was looking for. I hadn’t followed directions. And not intentionally, either.

I wrote back with some questions, explaining what I was struggling with and emphasizing that I wanted to try again. I wanted to get it right. He sent me back an additional explanation, and it completely elucidated what I had missed. Now, I understood. It felt good, as it always does, to struggle with something and have it finally click.

At the bottom of his email, he wrote something that surprised me. He thanked me for working with him on the article, and he said, “This is the work that writers do.”

That really stuck with me. It was a great lesson on working to deliver what the client wants, even if that means rewriting the entire thing, which I did. A lot of writing is rewriting. It was a valuable lesson in following directions. I’m grateful for the criticism and the experience. Sometimes getting it right the second time teaches us more than getting it right the first time. I ended up writing twice as much, but that’s a good thing. Writers write. The more the better.

Seize the Spontaneity

Sometimes, the things we know are best for us are the things we find hardest to do. With the new year, we find ourselves saying, “I want to write more”, or “I want to exercise more”, or “I want to floss more”. But these things are hard, and sometimes the motivation to just do the thing is elusive.

One component of what makes these activities difficult is that they often have intrinsic barriers to starting. With writing, you have to be at your computer and open a new document. With exercising, you have to put on your workout clothes, leave your house, and go to the gym. With flossing, you have to measure out the ideal length of floss, wrap it around your fingers, and remember how much you hate flossing.

These acts seem inconsequential, but they actually inhibit us from doing the thing we know we should be doing. Sometimes even the smallest barrier is enough to sap our motivation. The thing doesn’t get done, and we feel crappy about it.

The solution, then, is to minimize barriers as much as possible, which is something Merlin and Dan talked about in episode 47 of Back to Work.

One way to reduce barriers is to choose tools that make things easier. I keep a notepad on my desk so I can quickly write things down if an idea comes to me. Likewise, I use Alfred to launch apps on my Mac, so all I have to do to open a new document is hit CMD + Space, type “b” for Byword, and hit Enter. This process is much easier than moving my mouse down to open the Finder, clicking Applications, then clicking on Byword. It makes it very easy to start writing.

You can figure out ways to do this with any activity. Laying out your workout clothes the night before, for instance, might increase your likelihood of actually exercising. You might also figure out ways to workout at home, so you eliminate the barrier of having to travel to the gym.

I get in trouble with my dentist every six months for not flossing enough, even though I know how important it is. But so far this year, I’ve flossed every day this week because of three little changes. I started using Plackers instead of regular floss because they’re easier to use. Second, — wait for it — I started flossing in the shower. I don’t know why; it just makes more sense to me as part of my shower routine. I also put the bag of Plackers on top of my towel rack, so I can’t get to my towel without moving them. This forces me to floss every time I take a shower, i.e. every day. So far, so good.

Now occasionally, if you’re like me, you’ll experience a random fit of inspiration. You’ll know exactly what you want to write, or the weather will be beautiful and you’ll want to go running, or you’ll just feel like flossin’. I get these little windows of energy from time to time, but the problem is that they’re fleeting. Sometimes I’ll wake up, see it’s a beautiful day and want to get outside and workout… but then I’ll pick up my iPad or get distracted by music or something on the Internet. By the time I break away from the distraction, the motivation is gone, and it’s lunchtime anyway. Oh, well.

The key here is to seize the spontaneity. Choose tools and methods that make your barriers as small as possible, and use any windows of energy to smash through them right away. The smaller the barrier, the less energy needed to overcome it, so you’ll be able to stop waiting for divine inspiration and start doing more of the thing you want to do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a 50 degree January day here in Connecticut, and I have some sprints to do.

Advice from Seth Godin

Seth Godin, keeping it real:

As soon as you accept that just about everything in our created world is only a few generations old, it makes it a lot easier to deal with the fact that the assumptions we make about the future are generally wrong, and that the stress we have over change is completely wasted.

And, on productivity and resolutions:

Until you quiet the resistance and commit to actually shipping things that matter, all the productivity tips in the world aren’t going to make a real difference. And, it turns out, once you do make the commitment, the productivity tips aren’t that needed.

Utter Failure & Hotel Steak

If you haven’t started listening to Back to Work by now, then shame on you. Regardless, I highly recommend the latest episode on New Year’s resolutions:

In the last episode of 2011, Merlin and Dan talk about fresh starts and modest changes rather than rehearsing for sucking. You don’t need a calendar to tell you to change. Whether you want to give up nail biting, onanism, or drinking a gallon of vodka a day, you need a plan and a tolerance for failure. Plus, a little care never hurts.

It’s a great listen.

Flow is the Opiate of the Mediocre

Note: I’m on vacation this week, so posting will be a little lighter than usual. I hope you’re having a great holiday week!

Cal Newport shares some advice from one of his readers on getting better:

Strategy #4: Create Beauty, Don’t Avoid Ugliness.
“Weak pianists make music a reactive task, not a creative task. They start, and react to their performance, fixing problems as they go along. Strong pianists, on the other hand, have an image of what a perfect performance should be like that includes all of the relevant senses. Before we sit down, we know what the piece needs to feel, sound, and even look like in excruciating detail. In performance, weak pianists try to reactively move away from mistakes, while strong pianists move towards a perfect mental image.”

Fascinating stuff. I’ve really come to love Cal’s website, Study Hacks.

Required Reading: "Better" by Merlin Mann

Required Reading is a series of articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that I consider to be unmissable. These are the things that have inspired me the most, and they’re the things I keep coming back to for repeated readings, viewings, and listens.

Speaking of self-improvement, today’s Required Reading is Merlin Mann’s 2008 essay, “Better”:

To be honest, I don’t have a specific agenda for what I want to do all that differently, apart from what I’m already trying to do every day:

  • identify and destroy small-return bullshit;
  • shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful;
  • make brutally fast decisions about what I don’t need to be doing;
  • avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity (esp. where it may touch money);
  • demand personal focus on making good things;
  • put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

All I know right now is that I want to do all of it better. Everything better. Better, better.

There’s something hugely inspiring about watching one of your heroes strive to improve. Someone who has already had success and is already great, but still isn’t content with resting on his laurels.

For example, Neil Peart, despite decades of fame as the drummer for Rush, decided to study with Freddie Gruber and learn an entirely new style of drumming. He could have decided he had nothing left to learn, but he didn’t. Because he wanted to get better.

Merlin’s essay is an exercise in course-correction. Even when we set out to be awesome, over time we become vulnerable to complacency. I reread “Better” every couple of months, and it always helps remind me to aspire to be great.