Footfalls

I don't have a thing for feet, but I love the sound of footsteps. Perhaps it's my penchant for Pink Floyd's "On the Run".

You can tell a lot about a person from how they allow their feet to connect with the earth. Do they drag their heels or touch down softly? Do they move heavily or lightly? Can you hear them coming down the hall, or do they just seem to appear from around the corner?

Do they walk mindfully or heedlessly? Do they seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders or only a sense of lightness and freedom? Are they running late, or are they already where they need to be?

Perhaps we should ask ourselves the same questions.

Not Eating Cookies is Harder When You're Tired

If you read the site yesterday, you know all about my awesome Saturday. What you probably don't know is that when I got home at almost three in the morning, I enjoyed a package of Chewy Chips Ahoy! and some Phish Food courtesy of Messrs. Ben & Jerry.

Which is ridiculous, given the amount of food I consumed throughout the day.

But as I sat there on the couch — possibly making little ice cream cookie sandwiches — I realized that the reason I couldn't help myself was because I was so incredibly exhausted.

I have very little willpower when I'm exhausted.

I could have fallen asleep immediately had I just gone upstairs. But my sleep-deprived brain decided that cookies and ice cream sounded like a much better plan, and I was powerless to argue. I knew it was a terrible idea, but I literally didn't have the strength to say no to myself.

Of course, this speaks to the importance of sleep, but there's also a bit more to it.

Here's an article by Tony Schwartz called "The Only Way to Get Important Things Done":

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you'll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

"Acts of choice," the brilliant researcher Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have concluded, "draw on the same limited resource used for self-control." That's especially so in a world filled more than ever with potential temptations, distractions and sources of immediate gratification.

Via Shawn Blanc

So not only are we less equipped to make good decisions when we're tired, we're less equipped to make good decisions after we've already made a bunch of decisions. And because those two variables tend to coincide at the end of the day, it's no wonder the glow of the refrigerator always seems most tempting after midnight.

The solution?

Get your sleep, and automate as many decisions as possible so you don't have to think about them anymore.

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

Two Observations About Food

Since I moved out of my parents’ house, I’ve been eating very healthy most of the time. Eating properly feels good, especially when you’re out on your own and responsible for your own well-being.

I’ve made a couple of observations about my dietary habits over the past month or so, and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is that the easier it is to eat, the more likely I am to eat it.

When you’re hungry, your willpower is diminished, and so it’s easier to grab something you can eat immediately than it is to prepare something healthy. Of course, unhealthy foods — like cookies, chips, and other snacks — require the least preparation. When you’re really hungry, it’s hard to spend five or ten minutes making scrambled eggs when you could be eating a cookie in five seconds.

Because the easiest foods get eaten first, I’ve decided not to keep any in the house. Even reasonably healthy things, like apples. If I have eggs, salad, chicken, vegetables, and apples, the apples are the easiest to eat. Everything else requires preparation. When I’m feeling particularly hungry and/or lazy, I’m much more likely to just eat five apples instead of making something else. So, easy foods are out.

Which leads me to my second observation, which is the notion of gateway foods. Gateway foods can actually be pretty good for you, except for the fact that they lead to much more unhealthy foods. I’ll give you an example.

Over the weekend I stopped over my dad’s house to pick up some mail. I wasn’t in the door for more than a few minutes before I was indulging in a heaping bowl of fruit salad (already made, and thus an “easy” food). But fruit is good for you, so no big deal, right? That first bowl lead to two more bowls. And since I had already had so much fruit, I thought I might as well enjoy some nuts while I was there (another easy food). And what goes great with fruit and nuts? Cheese. Obviously.

Within an hour I had enjoyed much more fruit, nuts, and cheese than I had intended. So by the time my dad pulled out the dark chocolate covered popcorn, I figured, “might as well”. And then came the latest sickeningly sweet variation of Oreo.

Fruit, nuts, and even cheese aren’t inherently unhealthy foods, but because they’re so easy to consume and require virtually no preparation, it’s easy to overeat them. Once you’ve binged on that stuff, it’s harder to rationalize not having some chocolate, dessert, or whatever.

So there you have it. Be wary of easy foods. Be wary of gateway foods. The best way to eat healthy is to have no other choice.

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

See the Bumblebees

The house where I live is right next to the local middle school, so the backyard is essentially two tremendous soccer fields. I’ve been taking advantage of the new environment with lots of barefoot sprints and pull-ups and chin-ups on the goal posts. It’s hot out there.

The fields are covered in thistles, which a great many honeybees take pleasure in. When you’re running as hard and as fast as you can with workout music raging in your headphones, it’s easy not to notice them.

But as I finished my workout the other day and collapsed to my knees in the grass, I spotted one buzzing nearby. My heart was pounding, and my legs were on fire, and there was seemingly no oxygen in the vicinity. But as I knelt there, gasping for air, I noticed this bumblebee, hopping from thistle to thistle. And as I watched him, I noticed another doing his own dance. And another, and another. And after a moment I could see all of the bumblebees dancing together in the grass under an infinite blue sky.

And so I noticed that sometimes, we need to stop running to notice things.

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

Write Spontaneously

Writing every day is a challenge. There’s the whole finding-an-idea part, and the finding-the-time part, and the finding-the-motivation part.

Depending on my schedule, I tend to write around the same time each day. Sometimes I’ll get into the habit of writing at night, which I enjoy. Nighttime tends to make me more emotional and contemplative. When I was doing yoga every day, I did all of my writing during the day, which seemed to result in more straightforward prose and a practical voice.

Both are good. Writing at the same time every day is a powerful habit because your brain can subconsciously prepare for writing mode as the hour approaches. Or it may not.

But lately I’ve been flirting with the idea of being more spontaneous with my writing.

Writing at a regular time is good, but sometimes I feel inspired when it’s not writing time, and sometimes I don’t feel inspired when it is. As most writers will tell you, inspiration tends to strike when your pen or laptop are inaccessible — in the shower, driving, mowing the lawn, etc.

But I do have an iPhone. And it’s always in my pocket.

If I have the opportunity, why shouldn’t I write when the mood strikes, instead of capturing the idea and saying, “Oh, that’s good. I should write about that… later…”? Often when I go back and look at the idea I wrote down, I’m not as psyched about it. I may still think it’s a good idea, but the motivation to write about it has passed.

I’ve written long articles on my iPhone before — just my two thumbs and me. So it is possible. It’s just a matter of having the discipline to stop what I’m doing, open a new document, and start typing. I might be sitting in my car in a parking lot, or in the office at work, or waiting for something or someone. But a lot can be written in five minutes with real concentration.

Ubiquitous capture is something I think about often. Why not ubiquitous writing? Byword syncs right to Dropbox, where I keep all of my work. The system is in place.

One reason I haven’t done much spontaneous writing is that I convince myself I don’t have much to say beyond the idea itself. But as is often the case, once I start typing, much more than I anticipated tends to come out.

Instead of holding back ideas when they come to me — when I’m most excited about them — I’m going to try to let them become manifest as quickly as possible, regardless of the time of day. In theory, this should allow me to more genuinely capture the enthusiasm for the idea, rather than trying to recreate it when it’s “official writing time”.

We’ll see how it goes.

I hope you have a truly memorable weekend.

Love,
Andrew

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Breathe to Be Free

Sometimes, my mind is a terrible place to be.

Yesterday, I spent most of my brain power thinking about one thing. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. For hours. Even while I was doing other things, it kept creeping back in. I was trapped in my own head by my own thoughts.

I didn’t want to be thinking about it because thinking wasn’t going to do me any good. I was thinking about something out of my control, which is fruitless, and which I’m usually pretty good at not doing. Usually.

But, as is the way of things, the harder I tried not to think about it, the more the thoughts took root in my brain.

Don’t think of pink elephants.

See?

It wasn’t until I went to yoga that I was able to free myself from this thought process. Allow me to explain.

Yoga is all about breath. In some ways, the breath is the most difficult part. Sure, the poses are hard, but trying to keep your mind focused on the moment — rather than on the thousands of worries waiting for you outside the studio — is another challenge altogether. While sweat is pouring down your face, and your muscles are burning gloriously, and your mind is darting from one thing to the next, maintaining that inhale… exhale… is really freaking hard.

But that’s the point.

Yoga teaches us how to be calm when we’re uncomfortable. It’s an invaluable skill, particularly when not doing yoga.

And so it was only when I started to focus on the breath that I was able to break free from my mental captors.

If you’re focusing on the breath, you’re in the moment. The breath is what’s happening right now. If you focus on the inhale… and exhale… you’re not worrying about what happened today, yesterday, what’s going to happen tomorrow or when you leave the studio, even if it’s just for a moment.

And that’s comforting. Because if you really focus on the breath — the way the air feels as it gets pulled in through your nose and fills up your lungs, and the way it feels as it leaves the body, taking with it everything you don’t need — you are reminded you’re alive. And that’s a very good thing.

My thoughts come back, of course. But rather than fight them, I merely observe them. I don’t try to force them out. I watch and let them pass by while I breathe.

Sometimes it takes a lot of breathing.

When the mind is loud and crowded, it can be a terrible place to be. But if we learn to quiet it, and empty from it all unnecessary thoughts, our sense of calm can be reclaimed.

Inhale… and exhale.

And practice.

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I have nothing to say today.

But that’s OK.

The less we talk, the more we listen.

The more we listen, the more we learn.

The more we learn, the clearer the path becomes.

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Too Many Inputs

Mark Sisson:

Namely, smartphones, social media, and the Internet in general has changed the way we experience the world. For many, it has replaced engagement with the real physical world almost entirely.

Brett Kelly, on reading intentionally:

It may sound narcissistic, but I feel a lot better laying my head down at night knowing that I spent 30–45 random minutes reading books and articles that I actually want to read instead of frustratedly skimming news that usually doesn’t interest me.

Paul Miller quit the Internet for a year:

I feel like I’ve only examined the internet up close. It’s been personal and pervasive in my life for over a decade, and I spend on average 12+ hours a day directly at an internet-connected terminal (laptop, iPad, Xbox), not to mention all the ambient internet my smartphone keeps me aware of.

Stephen Hackett:

Miller’s actions are probably over the top. That said, I do think many of us who are neck-deep in the Internet daily could use a healthy dose of self-control.

Richard J. Anderson:

How much of what I’m consuming in content each day is signal, and how much is noise? […]

Every click brings us a little shot of pure, full-strength dopamine. Don’t tell me you don’t get just the tiniest little thrill when you open your Twitter client, refresh your RSS feeds, or refresh your Instagram feed.

I love being a nerd, having a website, recording podcasts, tumbling, tweeting, reading RSS and Instapaper, and on occasion, even emailing.

I quit Facebook because it was a timesuck, and I need all the time I can get. It’s the same reason I don’t keep any games on my iPhone.

But sometimes, it’s still too much. I’ve felt digitally overwhelmed lately.

I had a nonstop weekend last week. Work was consuming, people were graduating, mothers were celebrating, family was remembering. And so my online life fell by the wayside.

Other than increasing unread counts, there were no consequences for my being off the grid. But I felt a certain heaviness every time I did take a moment to check my phone. I felt removed from the online world.

Distraction is ubiquitous. It’s so easy to wake up in the morning, reach for the iPhone on your nightstand, and spend half an hour reading and consuming.

I haven’t picked up my Kindle in months, even though I love it, and I think it’s because I’m already reading all day. Reading books takes focus and concentration. It’s intellectual work, and I often don’t have the strength for it at the end of the day. I’d rather just thumb through more tweets and RSS feeds.

Combatting information overload is an iterative process.

I’m not about to quit the Internet completely; I find too much value in it, and it’s helped me discover things I love very much. It’s helped introduce me to this online world of writers and creators, a community that I aspire to be a part of.

Ultimately, I agree with Rich. The simple answer is mindfulness: being aware of all of our inputs and what they contribute to our lives.

RSS is the biggest culprit for me. I’m currently subscribed to 98 RSS feeds, some of which are high volume, many of which are not. I’ve made a conscious effort to remove any feeds I deem extraneous. If I find I’m constantly swiping “read” on a majority of a feed’s posts, it’s time to unsubscribe.

I’m considering moving to a Patrick Rhone-esque RSS system in the future, but for now I’m going to continue to keep a close, mindful eye on my inputs, and maintain the self-control to not check them every five minutes.

Sometimes, you need to shut down.

The solution to too many inputs is simple. Evaluate each input as follows:

  1. Be mindful of the input’s value.
  2. When the input is no longer valuable, remove it. (This requires letting go of the fear of missing out on what the input provides.)
  3. Repeat.

Eliminate the unnecessary. Inner peace 101.

Have an extraordinary weekend, everyone.

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How to Win a Staring Contest with a Cupcake

Eighteen.

That’s the number of cupcakes that were left over after my niece’s christening party. Chocolate with vanilla creme filling, and red velvet. Each the size of my face. Sitting there, staring. Unblinking. Waiting for me to cave. Damn you, Stew Leonard.

It’s easy to be enthusiastic when a goal or habit is new and exciting. It’s fresh, and you’re fired up about being a better person.

But once that newness wears off — like say, when you’re 23 days into health nut month — it’s hard to maintain the enthusiasm. You’re tired, maybe a little cranky, and you’ve become complacent. You’re used to your goal. It’s no longer at the forefront of your mind, but lodged somewhere in the back. Your energy drifts elsewhere, which makes you vulnerable to slipping up.

Our enthusiasm for positive change fluctuates over time. In the case of diet and exercise, some days, we’re fired up, rarin’ to go, ready to be the healthiest person ever. Other days, the mere scent of a cupcake can cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

It’s easy to make excuses in the face of a cupcake. That sexy pastry’s right there, taunting you. Moist, sweet, delicious. Loaded with sugar. You know it’s bad for you, but the excuses start to form in your mind…

I’ve been healthy all day/week…

I had an awful day, I deserve a cupcake…

It’s not a big deal. It’s just one bite…

When staring down a cupcake, these excuses creep in and take over. They take root in your mind, and suddenly you can’t remember any of your motivation for being healthy. The brain becomes overwhelmed with temptation, and so there’s no room for discipline.

A solution I’ve been experimenting with this month is something I’m calling “The Reasons Why List”.

The Reasons Why List is self-explanatory. It’s a list of reminders about why you’re working toward your goal. For example:

  1. I want to look like Tarzan.
  2. Sugar will kill me.
  3. Bruce Lee definitely wouldn’t eat that.
  4. Gotta look good naked!
  5. I want to live for as long as possible.

And so on. You’d be surprised how many you can come up with. When staring down a cupcake, consult your Reasons Why List.

Eating a cupcake is a pleasurable experience, there’s no doubt about it. But that pleasure is fleeting. The five minutes spent eating a cupcake are wonderful, but they’re soon followed by physical and mental discomfort. An unhappy stomach, and a guilty voice inside your head. Was it worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Documenting all of your reasons why can help you determine whether or not a cupcake is worth the consequences. The Reasons Why List reminds you who you are and who you want to be.

When staring down a cupcake, remember your reasons. Beat back the temptation, and move a little closer toward your goal.

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Easter Casualities

Well, after seven healthy days in a row, I crashed and burned in a fiery explosion of Easter entrées, desserts, and candy. Pants were stretched, stomachs were tested, and abdominal muscles were forced to retreat from the Easter bunny’s onslaught.

But, that’s alright.

The important thing to remember about diverting from habits is that it’s very easy to go back to them.

All you have to do is step back on the path.

I could allow myself to feel guilty and depressed about the eight straight hours of sweets and treats, but what good is that going to do?

One bad meal isn’t as bad as one bad day, and one bad day isn’t as bad as one bad week. Rather, one bad meal is a mere bump in the road. When you look at the big picture, the healthy days still greatly outnumber the unhealthy days.

At the same time, one must be mindful. One bite doesn’t mean the whole day is shot. You can’t allow one mistake to become two, or three, or seven.

Don’t allow one step off the path to become an excuse for tumbling off a cliff.

Rather, when you’re stuffed with truffles, or high from caramels, or laden with cheesecake, take pleasure in the realization that you brought this on yourself. If you can choose to step off the path, you can just as easily choose to step back on. Right now.

Sometimes you have to utterly destroy yourself to remember just how much control you have.

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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.

Epiphany

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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"All Knowledge Is in the Air"

Below is a passage from Victor Wooten’s novel, The Music Lesson. I’ve written about this book before. It’s full of wisdom not just about music, but about life in general.

This is another one of my favorite passages. It’s a monologue spoken by Michael, the novel’s enigmatic teacher. I was going to write something about it, but in rereading the chapter, I decided it’s better to let the words stand on their own.

“Like this smoke, knowledge is in the air. All the knowledge that ever existed, or ever will exist, is here already: right here, right now. If you can tune in to the correct frequency you can pick up any information you want. We think the brain creates knowledge, but I am here to tell you that the brain creates nothing. The brain receives, or more accurately, it discovers. It would be a miracle in and of itself to think that everything in this world came from the brain, a jelly-like mass the size of a grapefruit. The brain can receive information and then use it. But create it? No!”

[…]

“Music comes out of a radio, but is Music inside the box? No! Music is in the air. The radio has the ability to tune in to the proper frequency and pick up whatever Music it wants, but it does not create it.

“Imagine if the radio could open up and play all Music at once. The result would be chaos. Unless it’s ‘tuned in’ to what we want it to receive, it’s not really working at all. Many people lose control in Life by doing exactly that. They open up to the ‘All,’ without the proper control necessary to assimilate all the information. The result, unless prepared, is chaos. Remember, all knowledge is in the air, and since you breathe in this air, all knowledge is also in you.”

Such a beautiful and profound concept.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Seize the Spark

I spent my entire Friday night listening to, playing, and marveling at the glory of music.

I also spent the first five or so hours of Saturday doing that, and consequently went to bed just as the sun was beginning to rise. Four hours later, I got up and went to my advanced students’ graduation. Two hours later, I came home, and, despite — or perhaps due to — my exhaustion, was surprised to find myself endowed with a small spark of inspiration. The kind that whispers about how being productive right now might be a good idea. The kind that tells you to clean the entire house or go run five miles. The kind that says, “Think of how great it would feel if you got a whole bunch of shit done right now.”

Such a spark can fade in just a few seconds, and so it must be seized.

I showered, put on clean jeans, my oversized SHU hoodie, and my L.L. Bean slippers. A writer’s uniform. The day reflected my enthusiasm, so I opened the windows to let in the sunlight and fresh air. I made green tea. I put on Music for Airports. I put my phone in the other room. And over the course of the next several hours, I proceeded to write one-thousand-one hundred-and sixty-five words about the major themes of Middle English lyric poetry.

It was a watershed moment for my thesis. Not only did my spree bring my thesis introduction to a staggering four-thousand-three-hundred-and-seventy-two words, but, when combined with my body of textual analysis, it pushed my total word count over the coveted fifty-pages threshold. My almost done thesis had blasted through a tremendous milestone, one that many months ago seemed imposing and somewhat life-threatening. And now, all that remains to be written is a handful of pages in the form of a conclusion.

In that moment when I got home, I could have just as easily decided to have lunch first. I could have decided to catch up on some video games. I could have decided to fall back into bed and tell myself, “I’ll do better work if I’m rested.” But I assure you, had I done anything else in that moment, that spark would have gone out and faded from memory. And I’d still be feeling guilty about not finishing my introduction.

Sometimes, you have to stay up until five in the morning playing your guitar. Sometimes, you have to go to work on four hours of sleep. Sometimes, you have to force yourself to do the work. But when you feel that twinge of productivity — when you feel that spark — seize it. Recognize it, cultivate it, and relish it.

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Happiness Is a Warm Screen

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Lam wrote an article called Happiness Takes (A Little) Magic, which discusses the role technology plays in our happiness and overall well-being. Brian’s piece was in response to Matt Ritchel’s New York Times article featuring a Stanford research report, which states girls aged eight to twelve who spent more time in front of screens are “less happy and less socially comfortable” than their peers.

Brian’s article is excellent, and you should read it. Technology and happiness are two areas of focus on QLE, so I wanted to offer my response.

Here’s Brian, referring to the Stanford study:

I am fascinated by this study because everything I have been doing in the last year professionally and personally has been to reduce the overage of technology and noise in my life and it has increased my happiness by many fold.

“Overage” and “noise”. Brian is quick to admit that he makes his living on the Web, and I will forcibly argue the value of technology and even certain social networks. The concern here is too much technology, to the point where it obstructs our ability to appreciate life outside it.

Brian uses junk food as a metaphor for the type of information we are lured into consuming, and the comparison is apt. The truth is, most of us are aware of how unhealthy processed food is, but its ubiquity also makes it almost impossible to avoid. Junk food is everywhere, often in disguise. Unless you are consistently mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth, it’s all too easy to fall into a complacent state of consumption.

So it is with technology.

As Brian mentions, television is inundated with celebrities and reality shows. Radio is laden with ads and overproduced, auto-tuned noise. The Internet is a barrage of headlines, linkbait, and meaningless Facebook statuses. This form of technology is so omnipresent that is has become the norm. Like eating at McDonald’s, you have to consciously choose to reject the garbage everyone else is mindlessly consuming. You have to be the weird one by not eating that stuff, or by not drinking or smoking, or by not having a Facebook account. The unfortunate truth is, you have to go out of your way to be healthy.

This is a matter of individual responsibility. You cannot control what appears on a menu, but you can control what you order or whether you eat there altogether. So too, you cannot control what other people put on the Internet, but you can control whether or not you choose to consume it.

There are two categories of people on the Web: people you don’t know, and people you do know. Brian handles both. First, the people you don’t know:

The first thing I did was to take back my time. I quit all the online content that was id-provoking and knee jerk. I stopped reading the stupid hyped up news stories that are press releases or rants about things that will get fixed in a week. I stopped reading the junk and about the junk that was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs that write stories like “top 17 photos of awesome clouds by iphone” and “EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS COMING TO FACEBOOK ON VALENTINES DAY.” And corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most days, I feel like most internet writers and editors are engaging in the kind of vapid conversation you find at parties that is neither enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone is shouting and no one is saying anything. I don’t have time for this.

Fantastic.

Do we really need to follow the 24-hour news cycle? To be informed at all times? Whether it’s politics, tech, or otherwise, I say no. Is there important stuff going on somewhere in the world at this very moment? Probably. But, how much of it is stuff I need to know about? Unless you define yourself by being the first to know the latest news, you don’t need to worry. If something is big enough for you to need to know about it, you’ll find out. Trust me. Imagine trying not to find out who won the Superbowl. Exactly. And that’s not even important.

The solution comes down to old-fashioned quality versus quantity. Take tech news, for example. I don’t need to follow TechCrunch and Engadget and Gizmodo because 75% of the things popping up in my news feed would be things that I do not care about. To be honest, I don’t care about the latest evil thing Google did, or the latest creepy thing Facebook did, or how big the latest Android phone is. I can’t be bothered.

Instead, I follow writers — individuals — whose values align with my own. In tech, if Gruber, or Shawn, or Ben, or Viticci are talking about it, then it’s probably something I’ll want to pay attention to. And even then, not always.

“Well, how can you just blindly go by whatever these guys are saying?”

Because I trust them and enjoy hearing their opinions. I may not always agree with them, but I feel its safer than consuming information from a news aggregate and blindly taking it as fact.

Now, about those people you do know. Brian:

I also stopped reading twitter and facebook regularly, because most of my online acquaintances are nice, but I like to think about these experiences as shallow and yes, also I don’t give a shit about 99% of people I interact with online. I’ve met some great friends online, but once I find them I would prefer to spend that time and energy with the few I would do anything for. Also, clicking the like button 1 billion times will never give you an orgasm or a hug or a high five.

“Shallow”.

That’s it, right there. What’s the quality of this relationship? What does this person contribute to my life on a daily basis? Love? Support? Laughs? Or shitty, melodramatic Facebook statuses?

Delete. Defriend. Unfollow.

You don’t need the noise. If “quality over quantity” is true for anything, it’s true for relationships, and not only digital ones. Let them go. You’ll have more time for those who matter.

This is not to say there are no benefits to technology. It allows us to learn and communicate in profound new ways, but we must be cautious. It should never take the place of life itself. Here’s Brian again:

Try using technology to work and read and watch faster. Then use that time to go explore the world or do whatever makes you happier. Is it hanging out online? If you think this, then you probably have not seen the things I have seen away from my computer.

Use technology. Enjoy technology. Read. Write. Learn. Connect. Discover. Grow. But be selective in those endeavors. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a state of complacency. Don’t allow yourself to become a mindless consumer. Be disciplined. You’re smart and good-looking. You can tell what is good and what is garbage. You can tell what is signal and what is noise. You can tell what’s worth it and what’s a waste. Choose mindfully, and then shut it down.

Don’t let your screen replace the sun.

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Should You Put a Case On Your iPhone?

Dave Caolo, of 52 Tiger fame, has noted that Gizmodo wants us to stop ruining our phones with stupid cases. Writes Jamie Condliffe:

It’s time to lose your cover for good, and let your phone roam free, nude, as nature intended.

I have no love for Gizmodo, and while I disagree with the tone of Condliffe’s article — even though it bears the site’s “Rant” tag — I also don’t use a case on my phone. I frequently discuss the issue with fellow iPhone users, so I thought I’d lay out my thoughts here.

On my iPhone 3G and my current iPhone 4, I’ve used a handful of cases with varying degrees of intensity. I started with the tank-like Otterbox Defender on my 3G, which can supposedly withstand being run over by a truck. Eventually, I realized this case was overkill, and over time I settled at the opposite end of the spectrum with the minimalist Incase Snap. This case offered little more than scratch protection, but it felt good.

When my Incase Snap cracked, I replaced it with what turned out to be (according to reviews) a knockoff from Amazon, which was made of a different material and didn’t fit properly. Well, no iPhone of mine wears a knockoff case, so I decided to go try going without. I haven’t used a case for probably six months now, much to the shock and awe of my friends and family members.

In retrospect, I believe my progression from indestructible to minimalist cases helped grant me the confidence to let my iPhone go naked. When it came time to ditch my phony Incase Snap, I asked myself, “How much protection is this case really providing anyway?” In other words, going from a very thin case to no case at all wasn’t much of a leap. If you’re contemplating going sans-case, might I suggest moving to a thinner case first as a stepping stone.

But that brings us back to the original issue and Gizmodo’s article: why would you want to go without a case?

Let’s take a look at Gizmodo’s three points. The first is that “it’s unnatural”:

Putting a case on your phone is a little like painting your Ferrari with rust-proofing paint, then wrapping it in burlap. Sure, you’re less likely to scratch it. But you obscure every beautiful detail of the bodywork. “It’s sensible,” you say. Lies. It’s not more sensible. It defeats the point of designing the phone in the first place.

There’s a valid point here. The iPhone 4/4S is a beautiful device, no question about it. Much of this beauty is due to the glass screen and back, which consequently give it a fragile feel. I’m not going to go into the technical specifications of the type of glass Apple uses, but what it comes down to is showing off your beautiful device versus protecting your prized possession. If you drop things a lot, a case might in fact be the “sensible” option. That’s up to you, not Gizmodo.

Personally, “showing off” isn’t the reason I don’t use a case. While it does look better, it also feels better. Holding a bare iPhone after using a case for a long time is pretty amazing. If you haven’t taken your case off in a while, try it, and remember how the device is supposed to feel, if only for a moment. That being said, there are some wonderfully grippy cases out there that feel great in the hand. Still, I prefer the feel of a naked iPhone. Giggity.

Side Note: You might wonder why I use a Smart Cover on my iPad if I prefer having nothing on my iPhone. While I do prefer the feel of my iPad 2 without it (considerably thinner), the Smart Cover was designed by Apple specifically for that device. It doesn’t just add protection with minimal bulk. It also provides increased functionality as a stand and sleep/wake mechanism. If Apple came up with a Smart Cover equivalent for the iPhone, I’d probably jump on it.

Gizmodo’s second reason is that “it’s not worth it”. They say you’re going to upgrade to new phone in a couple of years, and any scratches only reduce the resale value by what a case would have cost anyway. Plus:

But remember that a few knocks along the way add character. Those little scratches will remind you of things that actually happen in your life. I have a ding in mine from when I walked into a wall drunk. That was a good night. I like that it reminds me of it.

But then, maybe things don’t actually happen in your life, given you spend so much time worrying about protecting your damn phone.

If you need to damage your phone to remember your drunken escapades, you might take a step back and reevaluate. Perhaps consider the Camera app. But anyway, ignore the quoted douchebaggery here for a moment, and let me say what could have cut this response down by about a thousand words:

Whether or not a case is “worth it” is a matter of personal preference. If it helps you sleep at night, by all means, get one. If you think it’s a waste of money, don’t buy one. It’s very simple. There’s no reason another person’s decision about their phone should cause you personal angst.

A $40 case is an expense, for sure, but if you’re accident-prone, it’s probably worth it for you. I will say, however, that I’ve treated my iPhone 4 better since removing the case. When it’s not covered in plastic and rubber, I remember that I’m holding a beautiful, $300 piece of technology. I’m more mindful when using it. I rarely even toss it on the couch or my bed.

My phone is usually in one of four places: in my front left pocket (alone… keys go in the front right pocket, wallet goes in the back right) with the screen facing my leg; in the center holster of my car; on the flat surface next to me; or in my hand. When my iPhone is in transit between these locations, I’m very aware of where it is. I always put my phone in my pocket before getting out of the car. I usually put it down on top of a book or legal pad if I’m at my desk, and I make sure the surface doesn’t have crumbs or other abrasive materials. These are habits I’ve built since going case-less. It’s not to say accidents don’t happen, but being consistently mindful has helped me reduce the risks and feel confident about having a naked iPhone.

On to Gizmodo’s third and final point:

A quick survey reveals that every phone in the Gizmodo office is nude. That’s right; we’re not just talk. Our phones run naked and free, as nature intended, and haven’t yet had occasion to regret it. Neither will you.

“Our final reason for being anti-case is that none of us use cases.”

All right.

A phone case is a matter of personal preference, and thus my point is two-fold.

First, the preference. If you’re going to be stressed out carrying $300 worth of unprotected technology around in your pocket, do get a case. The forty bucks is worth the peace of mind. On the other hand, I happen to think it’s worth learning how to live without a case. It’s nothing to be scared of. It just takes a bit of mindful practice. I’ve no interest in forcing anyone to adopt my point of view, although I’m happy to share it.

Which brings me to the personal: You worry about you and your phone. I’ll worry about me and mine.

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Thank Your Headache

In Victor Wooten’s 2008 novel, The Music Lesson, the student wakes up one morning with a headache. The teacher, after appearing, mysteriously tells him that he should thank his headache, rather than fight it. The student does, and the pain subsides.

It’s a wonderful book with bountiful wisdom, but that chapter has always stuck with me. The idea is that, rather than tense up when we feel pain, we should be mindful of what our bodies are trying to tell us. We should be grateful for the pain because it’s usually a warning about something that could turn into a more serious problem if ignored. Hence, thank you, headache.

I was reminded of that story as I drove home tonight with a dull pain behind my eyes. Rather than resist the headache, I acknowledged it and thanked my body for telling me something was wrong. In my case, I could tell I had stayed up too late and needed some sleep. I also noticed my shoulders were hunched and my jaw was clenched, so I breathed and let go of the tension that had creeped its way up my neck. When I did that, the pain didn’t go away completely, but it did subside quite a bit. The pain was my body’s way of getting my attention, and when I noticed and acknowledged what was wrong, it was as if my headache said, “OK, good. Just letting you know” and calmed down. Thank you, headache.

I know it sounds cheesy, but it works. The next time you have a headache, try thanking it instead of getting frustrated or annoyed by it. Listen to what it’s telling you. It might be saying, “Hey, you haven’t had any water today”, or “You should probably take a break from staring at this computer screen”, or “Don’t worry so much about this presentation”.

I like to think our bodies don’t just cause us pain for no reason. It’s more likely that they’re trying to tell us something. Of course, if you’re bleeding profusely, by all means get to a hospital. Otherwise, try taking a moment to listen and see if you can’t hear what the headache is saying.

Your mind and body work best when they’re on the same team.

Now, I’m off to bed. Have a great weekend!

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How I Stopped Working Out and Felt Better About Pretty Much Everything

I teach karate, for those of you who don’t know.

The chief instructors work out for two hours Monday and Wednesday, followed by a meeting that can last up to an hour. While I’m not a chief instructor, I was invited to these workouts, and subsequently have been participating for some time.

While I consider it a great privilege to attend these workouts, they put a significant strain on my Monday and Wednesday schedules. I get up at 9am, drive twenty-five minutes to Windsor, do the workout and meeting, and get home around 1:30. I need to be at my studio by 3pm to get ready for the day’s classes, which last until 9pm. That means I have a 90-minute window with which to take care of my entire non-karate life. Between showering, eating lunch, and posting something here, — not to mention my thesis — these twelve-hour days are pretty hectic.

Now, this schedule was counteracted by the fact that I didn’t teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which meant I’d have twelve-hour Mondays and Wednesdays, interspersed with leisurely Tuesdays and Thursdays. It sounds doable, but over time, the weight of Monday and Wednesday drove me to the point where I couldn’t find the motivation to do much of anything on my off days. All I wanted to do was rest.

This continued for many months, until, during a conversation about my thesis, my instructor reminded me that my attending the workouts and meetings was completely optional. If I wanted to spend a morning getting a chunk of writing done, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I was conflicted, because I value the workouts themselves, but I could feel myself getting burnt out with my current schedule. One day, I decided to take the morning off to work on my thesis. That was probably three weeks ago, and I haven’t been up to Windsor since.

Cutting out those Monday/Wednesday workouts has had a profoundly positive impact on my mood and attitude. Here’s why:

  1. I save gas. It may not seem like much, but twenty highway miles each way twice a week burns a decent amount of fuel. It’s only a few miles to the studio where I teach, so without the Windsor trips, my gas tank lasts exponentially longer. I don’t get paid to attend the workouts or meetings, so I also save a bit of money on gas.

  2. I save time. Understandably, sometimes the workout is intense and worth the trip, and sometimes we’re off our game and it’s pretty unproductive. Including travel, workout, and meeting, I might use up to four hours of my day, hours that might be used more effectively elsewhere. That ninety-minute window gives me only enough time to get a handful of things done. With the morning free, I get much more done and go into work feeling accomplished, rather than frazzled.

  3. I save stress. To be blunt, meetings usually put me in a bad mood, depending on the dynamic. In this case, even though the meetings are tailored for the chief instructors and not me specifically, I still felt obligated to participate and share the criticism when it came to discussing business areas we needed to improve. Long story short, I rarely felt energized or motivated after meetings, and more likely would feel pressured and stressed out. No longer.

  4. I save energy. Two hours is a long workout, and teaching four classes afterward — which itself is respectable exercise — is pretty demanding. I like to work out hard, so being exhausted when teaching my own students decreased the quality of their classes. I’d have low energy, be more impatient, and more likely to get annoyed with a snarky eleven-year-old. Now, I’m working out in other ways, which leave me invigorated instead of exhausted. Instead of showing up at work fried, I can have a productive morning writing or getting things done, which leaves more energy for teaching stronger and more enjoyable classes.

  5. I save sanity. The result of all this is that my mood is tremendously improved. I’m not exhausted from overtraining. I’m not stressed because I feel like I got nothing done. I’m not depressed about spending my entire day off being tired instead of productive. I’m not cranky when I teach my students. I come to work after a productive morning excited to teach class. Overall, I’m much better equipped to deal with life that day.

My point is this: sometimes you don’t realize the effect something has on you — for better or worse — until it’s not there anymore. It could be a meeting, a commute, or some other time-suck. It could be an object on your desk, or a pile of paperwork. It could be a relationship.

I didn’t fully understand how negatively my trips to Windsor were affecting me until I eliminated them. Only then did I realize how much better I felt. Sometimes the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

Now, there are some things — most things — you can’t control. You can’t just stop doing your job, no matter how stressed out it makes you. (Although, you could quit.) But, it’s important that we remain aware of and examine the things we can control and change them when necessary.

If your commute involves a two-mile stretch of lights and stop-and-go traffic, then find a different way to get to work. I’ll always take a scenic, enjoyable route over a direct, but infuriating, one.

Have you been using a broken umbrella for months because you’re too lazy to buy a new one? BUY a new umbrella! You’re soaking wet all the time.

Are you sick and tired of tripping over the office garbage can every time you get up from your desk? Then MOVE the garbage can!

It sounds silly and obvious, but sometimes we become so acclimated to these annoyances, we don’t even notice them anymore. We just feel their effects. We don’t realize how little effort it would take to improve our lives in some small way. And usually it’s the little things that make a big difference.

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Walking to Music

It was an unbelievable 54 degrees today with nary a cloud in the sky, so I decided to go for a walk.

It was a respectable walk, something in the vicinity of 2.2 miles with moderately challenging terrain. I decided to bring my iPhone so I could listen to the new Gotye album, which is amazing. I’ll probably be writing about it shortly, so you might as well buy it now.

Meanwhile, on the last leg of my walk, it occurred to me that I hadn’t really thought about anything but the music. It brought to mind the debate between exercising with music or without. Suppose you’re going for a run, for example. I can see how the right music could pump you up and potentially lead to a stronger, more intense workout. But on the other hand, your mind could remain focused on the song, as I experienced today, and fail to drift aimlessly from thought to thought.

Activities like walking or running are great opportunities to let our minds relax and wander freely. You can let your worries go for a little while and surrender to the endorphins. It’s a good chance to decompress, think, or not think at all. Who knows where that mental wandering might lead? If I hadn’t been focused on the awesomeness of Gotye, maybe my mind would have come across a great idea for an article, or some other epiphany.

I can’t say which is better. That half-hour walk might have been boring without my headphones, or I might have come up with a new idea, or maybe I’d just have enjoyed the day a little bit more.

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The Power of Night

When I was little, I used to freak out if I was the only one awake in my house. Being alone in the dark is scary for a kid. These days, though, I’ve come to appreciate it.

If left to my own devices, I could probably become completely nocturnal in about two days. I love staying up late, and I could sleep until noon every day if my schedule allowed. I’ve never been a morning person and find the moment my alarm goes off to be excruciating. Those of you who blink twice and spring out of bed with a cheerful, “Good morning!”, please keep your voice down while I remove the welding from my eyes.

I do, however, have a certain affinity for the dawn. Getting up for it is hellish, but five o’clock in the morning is an incredible time of day. You just have to get to it. For me, that usually means staying up all night — and then sleeping in, of course.

People always allow themselves to feel guilty about sleeping late. “I feel like I wasted my whole day!” Or, if they’re tough, they’ll say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” I never understood that line of thinking. For one, you’ll die a lot sooner if you don’t get your sleep, and two, all you have to do is stay up later. Boom. Hours regained.

I appreciate vitamin D as much as the next person, but I’ve always found nighttime to be preferable to daytime. There’s no traffic. It’s quiet. In the summer, it’s much cooler. You’re probably not rushing to get anywhere, so it’s more relaxing. You see things differently in the dark. It’s a different world. It’s a world at rest.

There’s also a special benefit. All of these qualities contribute to a sense of heightened emotion.

Have you ever noticed how emotions are way more intense at night? Whatever you’re feeling seems to increase tenfold. That’s because we are more likely to find ourselves alone with our thoughts at night. During the day, we’re all running around, doing our jobs, talking to each other, trying to get things done. It’s easy to suppress our emotions when we’re busy and have life to distract us. But at night, when the world slows down, and everyone is asleep but you, the only company you have is your mind. Your emotions become much bigger and more powerful because they’re being amplified by solitude. It’s hard to ignore them when everything else is so quiet.

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I value this time. It’s a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. You can wrestle with feelings, contemplate the unknown, or appreciate something or someone in your life. With no one around, you can give something your full attention. You can focus all your energy into a single thought or project. I’m writing this article at two in the morning, for example. It’s hard to find such opportunity during the day.

It works both ways, of course. Being alone in the dark when you’re happy can be liberating, but when you’re sad, it can be miserable. In either case, though, we should remember to take advantage of the heightened awareness the night provides. It’s a wonderfully cathartic environment. It’s the perfect time to get to know yourself a little better. To sit still, be quiet, and just think. Your mind might teach you things you missed while running around in the sun.

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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.