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9 Tricks That Lead to Life-Long Fitness

Photo courtesy of Francois de Halleux

Currently, everyone I know falls neatly into two categories: those who kept up with their New Year’s resolutions and those who didn’t. Regardless of category, nearly all of my closest friends and family members want to get in better shape this year. Don’t we all? Every year?

If you find yourself struggling to get and stay fit, you’re not alone. According to Reuters, 36% of adult Americans are substantially overweight, and 17% of American children are, too. These figures mean that we need to make changes as a nation in order to get and stay healthy. Luckily, the changes can be subtle and still make a huge difference.

Perhaps you’ve merely put on an extra 10 pounds because you’ve reached that stage of your romantic relationship where everything becomes more relaxed – including your formerly strict diet and gym schedule. On the other hand, you may be looking to get fit for the first time in your life.

No matter what the reason, if fitness is your goal, you’ve got to have a doable plan that you feel good about. Otherwise you run the risk of burning out, getting bored, or never getting started in the first place. The following tricks have been recommended by some of the nation’s fittest, like Martin Rooney, an internationally recognized pioneer of strength:

  1. Treat exercising like brushing your teeth. It’s unavoidable, and if you don’t do it regularly, things are going to get bad in a hurry. If you make exercising into a (good) habit, chances are really high that you’ll stay fit for life.
  2. Take it to the playground. Let’s face it – no one’s overly motivated to do something they hate. Make your workouts fun again! Playing on playground equipment, joining a recreational sports team, riding your bike around the ‘hood, jumping rope with your kids – these are all great calorie busters while being fun at the same time.
  3. Make it a two-fer. If you’re more of a straight-laced guy or gal and prefer walking or running to the monkey bars – at least take your workout outside. Time flies by when the scenery is constantly changing, and you’ll burn more calories than on any treadmill. The varied terrain of the outdoors coupled with variable temperatures and wind conditions mean that your body will have to work harder, burning up to 7% more calories, according to Women’s Health magazine. Oh, and the two-fer? Vitamin D, of course!
  4. Mix it up. The saying “Variety is the spice of life” applies to exercising, too. Routines are beneficial (See #1) but as soon as your workout routine becomes overly strict, you’ll get bored. Experiment with different activities, even some that you’ve never tried before.
  5. Chat it up. By finding someone to work out with, you’ll not only avoid workout boredom with conversation, but you’ll also have instant accountability.
  6. Make a workout playlist. As humans, we naturally want to move to a tempo. As far back as 300 B.C., the rowers on the Roman Galleys were led and coordinated by a man banging on a drum. Something in the way our brains work makes us naturally want to walk, run or pedal a bike in synchronization with the music we’re listening to. Somehow, music reduces the perception of effort and can also increase our endurance by up to 15%, according to Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., from London’s Brunel University.
  7. Break it up. So many of us are bogged down by the notion that we have to spend a continuous amount of time exercising (and only exercising.) For people with a busy schedule, that can get stressful. It’s perfectly ok to work out in small bursts throughout the day, even combining exercises with other daily activities. Try doing crunches while you watch TV at night, or use your break at work to run up and down the stairs several times.
  8. Set goals. While it may not be essential for everybody, most people will benefit from a goal and reward system. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and will encourage you to stay motivated.
  9. Take a stand. Your friends may give you a hard time about your dedication to working out while on vacation, or eating healthy at a sporting event. Staying fit for life requires the courage to stand up for what it takes to get and stay there, even when faced with opposition.

There’s no doubt about it, getting in shape is something that requires commitment and effort on your part. Small changes add up to big consequences, though, so what starts out as baby steps today can easily turn into a life-long love affair with fitness.

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A Success Story that will Amp Up Your Motivation

Photo courtesy of CR Artist

I’ve found that motivation is rather hard to come by this time of year, and that (ironically) was the catalyst for today’s post.

If you’re like me, then you’ve realized how difficult it is to overcome the emotional hurdles that come along with being in a slump – the biggest of which is a feeling of hopelessness. Luckily, motivation is something that comes and goes, and as long as you don’t give up on your goals, you will feel motivated again soon.

Along with staying focused on the end result, there are some other things you can do until your motivation returns, and some of them might even bring it back sooner. At times like this, choose one goal to focus on. Too many things on your To-Do list is a surefire way to overwhelm yourself. Spend some time with your negative thoughts; let yourself feel them without judgement. After a few days, start writing yourself inspirational notes, even if you don’t feel inspired yet.

You can also use this time to be inspired by other success stories, like the one that follows.

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When Howard was just 8 years old, his father lost his blue collar job due to injury, with no opportunities for sick leave or disability pay. Howard’s parents became unable to pay bills, afford healthcare, or even put food on the table. Howard wanted a better life, but he also wanted to make a difference for others. As the first member of his family to attend college, he earned a degree in Communications, after which he worked his way upward with sales and marketing positions.

His incredible drive and work ethic eventually got him hired as Vice President of a fairly large housewares company. Among his clients was a small company that sold coffee beans, loose teas, spices and beverage accessories. Howard became intrigued by this company when they began purchasing more and more of his company’s products. On a business trip to their location, he fostered a relationship with the company owners and eventually became their Director of Marketing.

Soon after, while Howard was on vacation in Italy, he noticed coffee shops on every corner, all brimming with customers day in and day out. People used the coffee shops as meeting places and hangouts. When Howard returned home, he pitched the idea to his bosses. However, the small coffee company owners wanted no part of the ‘restaurant business’ and they quickly dismissed his idea.

Howard was disheartened by their response to his idea, so he left the company to start a chain of coffee shops on his own, called Il Giornale. Two years later, he had enough capital to buy the rights to the small coffee bean company he had left. It cost him $3 million to purchase and he quickly rebranded Il Giornale to combine the two concepts into a colossal money making machine.

Of course, the name of that small coffee bean and tea company was Starbucks, and as of 2012, it is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, and Howard Schultz has a net worth of approximately $1.5 billion. True to his promise to himself when he was just a youngster, every Starbucks employee working 20 or more hours a week receives healthcare options, which are also extended to their spouses.

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I often think about Howard when my motivation is low, and I realize that if he can accomplish such amazing feats, having grown up in a housing project in the Canarsie area of Brooklyn, then surely the rest of us can find the motivation to accomplish our goals, too.

Until your motivation returns, let the stories of people like Howard stoke your fire. You only need one ember burning to keep your dreams from going up in smoke.

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Table for One: Ten Reasons to Enjoy Going Solo

Photo courtesy of Scott Swigart

“To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your own path, and don’t worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest.” – Napoleon Hill

Many years ago, I was young, naive, and engaged to be married. When that relationship ended unexpectedly, I found myself begrudgingly alone and completely terror stricken to venture out into the world with just my shadow for company. Amazingly, though, some of the things I learned during what I considered to be “The Aftermath” of the break-up were some of the most valuable lessons of my life.

  1. There is only one person who can validate your imporance in life: You.
  2. It’s better to a feel a little lonely sometimes with just yourself than to be with someone and feel alone.
  3. Somewhere, someone always has bigger problems than you do.
  4. You can make it through virtually any challenge as long as there is an end in sight.
  5. Nothing bad ever lasts forever.
  6. If you’re alone and sad, force yourself to smile repeatedly. After awhile, you’ll actually smile yourself happy.
  7. As a general rule, you have to work through the bad stuff to make it to the good stuff.
  8. Unanswered prayers go unanswered for a reason.
  9. Living in the past is a gigantic waste of time. Live now.
  10. Freedom is one of the most amazing gifts in the world. (Fifteen years later, this still holds great meaning for me.)

There are some wonderful things that can result from the healthy relationships that you cultivate with other people. However, your most important and longest-lasting relationship is the one you have with yourself.  Nurture it accordingly.

In this lifetime, some of the greatest gifts will come to you when you least expect them, just as some of life’s most important lessons are the ones that come when you aren’t even studying.

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3 Simple Plot Twists that Will Change Your Life Story

Photo courtesy of Melissa Maples

Sixteen months ago I was living a very different life story.

The main characters were pretty much the same; the setting was the lovely, lofty place I still call home. To onlookers, casual observers and indifferent passersby, my world as it is now remains unchanged, even static, if you will.

Those of you who’ve experienced a profound internal metamorphosis can understand when I say: Nothing changed, yet everything was different.

As you’re making your way through the plot of your life, remember that you’re the author, illustrator, and most importantly, the editor. By shifting and twisting the plot bit by bit, you have the power to keep making changes until the story matches the picture in your mind.

If the main character in your favorite novel can find his or her way to a happy ending, you’d better believe that you can, too. Like everything in life, editing your own plot line to perfection takes trial and error, but at least one of these three major plot twists is bound to be just what you need.

  1. “Kill off” an unsupporting character. It’s so easy to get rid of the bad guy in books and movies, and it won’t be quite that simple in real life. If all of your days and nights are filled with angst that always leads to the same person, fire the “actor” and fill the position with someone who’s a better fit for the role.
  2. Frankly, my dear, you’ve got to stop giving a damn. After all, Rhett Butler managed to do it in Gone With the Wind, so you can, too. A plot twist that will have a huge impact on the story of your life is to stop wasting your precious energy and emotions on arguments with people who just don’t, and likely never will, get it. The freedom and relief that will come your way may seem trivial now, but letting go of things that just aren’t all that important will allow you more time to focus on the things that are essential to your complete happiness and satisfaction.
  3. Take a hard look at the mirror, mirror on the wall. Hone in on your self-awareness. Love yourself unconditionally, with every single flaw you’ve got. Only when you’re able to embrace yourself in all of your imperfection will you be able to improve as a person. After all, you are the main character, and it’s up to you to decide it you want to be the Protagonist or the Villain. Make changes accordingly.

Personally, I got the biggest results from #3, and now my character is frequently brought to tears of joy. In my life story, the moral turned out to be “You get what you give.” Try to see what you can learn by re-reading the pages of your own story, and always keep in mind that you’re the one holding the pen.

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7 Steps to Becoming a Better Team Player

Photo courtesy of Gavin Llewellyn

As we were coordinating a recent event here at the TinyShift offices, there were quite a few details that we had to iron out in short order. Just like our readers, we’re learning everyday, and this time we were learning how to produce a pretty substantially sized project by working together as a team.

Whether you’re just starting your self-improvement journey or if you’ve been walking down the path for awhile now, remember that being a good team player is a skill that you’ll use in multiple areas of your life. Make sure you can hold your own when it comes to the areas listed below, and you’ll see the payoff in your work life, your friendships, your family life, and even your love life.

  1. Effective communication skills – Speak your mind and know when it’s your turn to listen to others’ ideas.
  2. Unique knowledge base  - Bring a skill to the table that your team values, and keep honing it so that your value doesn’t depreciate.
  3. Dependability – A functional team needs all of its members to do their part well and on time.
  4. Team loyalty - If you don’t believe in your team and the projects you’re working on, you might as well quit now.
  5. Strong work ethic – Don’t let anyone walk all over you, but be willing to push your limits when you’re asked to.
  6. Openness to new ideas – A person who is ‘always right’ will never make a good team member.
  7. Willingness to ask for help – While they need you to be able to pull your load, being part of a team means you all help eachother anytime you can.

If you think about it – all of the skills or attributes listed above apply to many relationships in your life. Sure, we usually associate working well as a team with our professional lives, but truth be told, old fashioned teamwork is what makes the world go ’round. And when there’s a lack of teamwork, chaos generally ensues in short order.

Keep your team-building skills on the burner at all times. Let them simmer, but make sure there’s a steady fire under them. That way, you’ll never have to attend a team event empty handed, and you’ll be sure to impress everyone!

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How to Win in the Game of Life: Holiday Edition


Photo courtesy of Wayne Silver
As we get closer and closer to the release date of Life: 2013, I’ve been thinking about all of the features that I thought were absolutely absurd when the current version came out. When I first played version ’12, there were definitely some elements that I wasn’t sure I could handle, and quite frankly, it seemed very possible that 2012 might turn out to be a total flop.

All in all though, I’m happy to report that ’12 pleasantly surprised me, and I got quite a lot of enjoyment out of what I orginally thought was an unreasonably challenging level of gameplay. I ended up making it through all of this year’s checkpoints with much greater ease than I anticipated, leaving me with more than three weeks to wait until I can tackle the new version.

Luckily, this year’s holiday edition promises is as jam-packed as ever, keeping all of us who are eagerly anticipating 2013 busy with some new and potentially complex characters, a seemingly endless number of mini-battles, and one-on-one challenges that will test everyone’s skills. As has been true with every Life: Holiday Edition, the graphics are once again amplified in a distorted sort of way, leaving the player feeling that the game’s colors and lights are just a little too bright. As they’ve said before, the developers don’t expect any major glitches, but it wouldn’t be the holiday edition if it didn’t crash at least a few systems.

If you’re playing the holiday version this year, there are some helpful hints put together by some players familiar with all of the holiday versions.

  • Trade your negative energy wand in for a more powerful and useful tool. You may feel like using the wand to battle or kill off annoying characters that appear in the holiday version, but remember not to expend too much energy on them.
  • Only use your invisibility cloak when you absolutely must. The rest of the time, it’s best to be out and about in all of the game’s levels so that nothing can take you by surprise.
  • Learn how to levitate. There are some helpful and free apps that will help you rise above. Being aware of your breathing while playing is the first step toward a totally zen gamer profile, which is even more critical in the holiday version.
  • Take responsibility for all of the moves that you make. A very important thing to remember is that no one is in charge of your lives but you. Sure, some people are influential players in the game, but there is only one person holding your controller.

While we all know that life isn’t really a game, sometimes it helps to think of it as one. Use all of your powers wisely and always be on the lookout for more, use (and ask for) a helping hand when you need one, stay as far away from the bad guys as possible, and keep your eyes on the prize.

Whether the bad guys you’re currently battling are skeletons in your closet, bullies from the unemployment office, ghosts of loved ones who passed away too soon, taunting monsters of chronic pain, or something even worse – as long as you see an ally when you look in the mirror, your enemies don’t even stand a chance.

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When Good Intentions Go Bad: Guest Post by Tess Pajaron

Photo courtesy of Rupert Ganzer

“It’s not a big deal if I do it just this one time…”

Everyone has said a version of this to himself or herself from time to time. We allow ourselves to give in to base pleasures and immediate gratification even though we know in the long run we’re going to feel bad about ourselves. We all know that we do this, but few have really taken the time to think about what it means and how it applies to them in their everyday lives.

Three examples that just about everyone can understand involve cheating – with your budget, your diet, and on your significant other. Who hasn’t decided to splurge on that new Blu-Ray player by putting it on a credit card, and then curse themselves later when it comes time to pay? Or been too tempted by the free jelly doughnuts at work to avoid them and stick with your diet? Heck, some people make a resolution to get fit by working out more, but just never pull themselves away from the computer.

And if you’re congratulating yourself for not cheating on your spouse…good job, but the mechanism by which we make that bad choice and the others described above is the same. If you can’t control yourself in one area, the likelihood that you might slip up in another goes up.

But why do we do it? What is this mechanism that allows us to do things that we know are bad for us and often just plain foolish? Psychologists say that much of it comes down to stress, fear, and memory.

As humans, we are hardwired to actively seek out paths that will keep us from making choices we regret. It is a motivation that comes both from outside social pressures and internal forces. Unfortunately, sometimes the stress of the situation and our own fears about getting it wrong can actually lead us to making poor choices.

But of course, choosing poorly and later regretting those decisions makes things worse because it raises the stakes (and the corresponding stress) the next time the situation comes up. And this is literally true – stressful decisions are known to cause greater activity in the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial orbitofrontal regions of the brain. In layman’s terms, the areas that control our emotional memories get all riled up and confuse us when we’re trying to make good decisions.

You would think that having memories of poor choices you’ve made in the past would be a good thing and allow us to make a better decision next time, but because emotions are involved it, can lead to flawed decision-making. Let’s say you cheated in the past, either on your diet or on a significant other – although we’re sure the significant other would disagree, in the context of this discussion they amount to the same thing. Even though the consequences of cheating (weight gain, embarrassment, breaking up, self-loathing) were severe, studies have shown that we put more emphasis on that brief moment of pleasure we got from the actual cheating than the painful aftermath.

So how can we fight against ourselves and make better decisions? You have to be able to look at your decision-making process and spot flaws. And perhaps even more importantly, you need to avoid what Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls narrow framing, where you look at each choice as an individual thing instead of considering how you’ve approached – or wish you’d approached – similar decisions in the past.

Rather than deciding in the middle of an emotion-fueled moment, we can create a system of acceptable responses for ourselves. At its most base level, this is essentially what society and the justice system does for us – it tells us what choices are going to lead to positive and negative outcomes by spelling out what those outcomes will be ahead of time. Of course, saying you’re going to come up with a system that prevents you from making bad choices and actually implementing it are two different things, but the only way to get better is to try.

Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind Open Colleges. Her desire to consistently improve her life led her down the road of psychology. When not working, she loves to travel and discover new places and cultures, having a fancy for modern minimalist architecture and interior design. She can also be found on Cerebral Hacks, where she regularly contributes.

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The Illusion of Control and Why You Need to Let it Go

Photo courtesy of Elsie Esq

The illusion of control is a very real psychological effect that has been studied and debated by renowned psychologists for years.

The arrival of “super-technology” and phones that are nearly smarter than humans have given us constant access to every aspect of our lives. Information is instantly obtained; gratification is never delayed. Questions are answered in mere moments with text messages, mobile email, and the internet. We are immediately alerted to any and all changes in our friends’ lives, our watched eBay items, and our bank accounts.  It seems there is nothing that can’t be solved, figured out, or Googled.  And, if Google doesn’t know – maybe Siri does.

What many psychologists have debated over the years is whether feeling totally in control of all of life’s situations is a good thing or a bad thing. Originally dubbed a ‘positive illusion’ in 1988, controversy has since arisen. Will our ever-increasing control over certain aspects of our lives lead to higher productivity levels, better pay and more happiness? Some say that positive illusions, like feeling more in control, can motivate people to follow through on tasks they might otherwise have abandoned.  Others have a much different opinion.

The opposing point of view is that the illusion of control is, in most cases, just that: an illusion with no basis in reality.  However, this phenomenon, whether real or not, can lead to a very powerful and very real desire to have control over everything, leading to high levels of anxiety when things don’t go as planned, which quite honestly, is what most of life is about.

For some, the need for control can become quite controlling in itself.

What we must keep in mind about our ability to control our lives is most simply stated in the serenity prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

In other words: Be realistic.  Making positive changes in your life is the greatest and most beneficial form of control you definitely can assert. By letting go in situations you simply can’t control, you’ll be able to be more present, getting the most of everything life has to offer.

 

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Big Picture Healing: Beating Depression the Old Fashioned Way

Photo courtesy of Suzan Marie

Lifestyles have evolved dramatically in the past 12,000 years. During the Stone Age, everyone lived in a hunter-gatherer tribe, engaging in hard work  outdoors, eating nutritious diets, and getting constant social contact. Their physically active lives meant that they got an average of ten hours of quality sleep every night.

Fast forward to today’s Modern Age. Now millions of people lead sedentary lives, spending many hours each day inside windowless cubicles completing mind-numbingly endless tasks. Meals consist of fast food, which is low in nutrition and high in saturated fat.  Many people are living life at a frantic pace, yet don’t sleep nearly enough – getting an average of only six hours a night.

Although lifestyles have changed drastically, the human genome has remained the same, and the effects of our poorly nourished, inactive, isolated, demanding, and insomnia-ridden lives are proving to be quite catastrophic to our physical and mental health. In contrast, the few hunter-gatherer tribes still in existence are healthy, strong, fit, and most importantly, happy.

Because of the disconnect between our environment and our physical and emotional requirements, a huge number of people are now dealing with depression and anxiety. In fact, my own depression is what started me on my journey toward self-fulfillment. Luckily, it has been proven recently that the adult human brain is changeable, as opposed to the previously held belief that the brain became fixed somewhere in adolescence.

Many therapists are now putting two and two together. People were happier in the Stone Age! With the new knowledge that the adult brain is malleable, many therapies to overcome depression and anxiety include incorporating some of these ancient habits in order to nudge the brain back toward a penchant for happiness:

  • Get plenty of restorative sleep.
  • Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Alternatively, take 1,500mg of omega-3 daily (fish oil caps).
  • Get at least 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight each day.
  • Aim to spend 90 minutes a week moving your body physically.
  • Connect socially Although the brain thinks the pain of depression is similar to an infection and that we should isolate ourselves from others, what we really need when we’re feeling down is more human interaction.
  • Be cognizant of what those before us have had to overcome, and how small our problems seem in comparison.
  • Accept yourself as you are.

In addition to taking a page from the history books, also try to:

  • Find a healthy escape that will keep you busy on a regular basis.
  • Keep track of your mood. Try to identify triggers for your depressed times.
  • Repeat positive affirmations to bouy your self-confidence.
  • Avoid labeling yourself as “depressed.” Labels often stick and can be self-fulfilling. Constantly reminding yourself that you are a “depressed person” will likely only make you more depressed. Although depression is very real and serious, avoid getting bogged down by what can seem like a permanent sentence.
  • Remind yourself that “this too shall pass.” As it turns out, my grandma was right.
  • Take a look at the big picture. As evidenced when Voyager 1 took the now famous photograph Pale Blue Dot, everything seems much smaller and less significant with a little distance and perspective.

Once you’ve gained the appropriate perspective and shifted your lifestyle so that it fulfills your needs, your brain should start to react accordingly. Combining the above strategies with a visit to your doctor will get you back on the road to happiness.  In order to stay on the right path: continue to respect your body’s needs and always be mindful of the amazing things that do exist in your little speck of the universe.

 

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How to Forgive Yourself for Being Human

Photo courtesy of soot+chalk

A few days ago I was in a foul mood and I ended up taking it out on my husband. He was happily whistling and making funny comments in the grocery store, and I was irritated with his lack of interest in which air freshener we should buy. I snapped at him as we shopped and then again when we arrived home. Later, I felt terrible about the way I had treated someone I love so much. I apologized profusely, and he said I was forgiven.

But I still felt like an awful person on the inside.

I’ve always had a hard time forgiving myself when I do something stupid, mean, or irresponsible.  I guess the reason for that is that I work really hard to be the best person I can be, and when I mess up, I feel like I have to start all over. It’s all or nothing.

As a person with a lot of aggressive tendencies, I am not a natural ‘warm and fuzzy’ kinda gal. While I credit my aggressive and tough exterior as the reason I overcame a lot of obstacles to obtain the life I wanted, there is definitely a time and a place for taking charge. What I’ve had to do is recognize the times when I should be more tolerant, less rigid, and relaxed.

If you have trouble forgiving yourself when you act out, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that forgiving yourself doesn’t mean  excusing your behavior – it simply means that you’re making an effort to keep your head high and your spirit happy despite your mistakes.

Also, continuing to re-hash your mistake will increase your feelings of guilt and anger. These are two very damaging emotions and can lead to a variety of health problems in the long term.

Ask yourself why you have to behave so perfectly while you don’t expect the same from others. For example, when my husband makes a mistake and apologizes, I am quick to forgive him and move on. Forgiving ourselves comes with accepting that we are all imperfect beings.

Remember, you only need to forgive yourself for specific actions, not for who you are as a person. Love and accept yourself as a person  with any “flaws” or mistakes you have made.

Letting your mistakes stop your forward momentum in life would be the worst of all possible scenarios. Instead, imagine how you can improve upon yourself and remember – forgiveness is an ongoing journey. Accept that mistakes will happen again but try to view them as minor bumps in the road instead of road blocks.

Value yourself, learn from your mistakes, focus on the positive things in your life, apologize sincerely if you have hurt someone, and most of all remember that everyone deserves forgiveness. Even you.

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