Tag Archives | happiness

Why Now Could Be the Perfect Time to Renew Your Resolutions

Resolutions
Photo courtesy of Ewan MacNeilage

March is not the most typical time of year to make life-improving resolutions, but really, who decided that we can only better ourselves on New Year’s Day? According to a survey conducted by Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, only 8% of the people who make resolutions at the start of the year will succeed in seeing them through, and by the time March rolls around, most of these resolutions are all but forgotten.

We like to use the New Year as a symbol of new beginnings; out with the old and in with the new. But when we tell ourselves that January 1 is the only date we can make these big goals, we’re effectively limiting the amount of success we can achieve over the course of the next year. As absurd as it sounds, I’ve actually met people who live by the outlook that if things aren’t going well in August, they’ll have to wait until January of the following year to do something about it.

If you find yourself setting resolutions on New Year’s Day, only to then forget about them several weeks later, right now could be the perfect time to revisit your personal goals, perhaps by revising your plan and outlining clearer objectives. In the end, January 1 is an arbitrary date. If you have a goal you really want to succeed in, you can renew your commitment to it at anytime. It’s either that or waiting until next year comes around.

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Working in the Present: 3 Ways to Tackle Seemingly Endless Tasks

Flying Kick
Photo courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin

Have you ever been stuck in the middle of a task you couldn’t see the end of? A few months ago, I was involved in a project that required a huge amount of perseverance (not to mention several gallons of coffee) to see it through to the end. After the initial excitement of starting something shiny and new had worn off, I began to realize the enormity of the task I had set myself, and somewhere along the way, I lost all hope that the project would be completed at all.

An overreaction? Perhaps. But all too often this occurs with large-scale projects. After weeks of repeating the same tasks without respite, team members can become frustrated at the seeming lack of progress, and the whole project starts to crumble under the weight of its own ambition.

In these situations, we often convince ourselves that everything is far more difficult to complete than it actually is, simply because we can’t see the end. Instead of looking for the finish line, however, we should try to be more concerned with what is happening right in front of us, so as to better manage the task at hand. Here are a few tips for breaking down the monotony:

1. Take each day as it comes. Start each day by making a list of attainable goals to be completed before the end of that day; don’t think any further than that. By only concerning yourself with what needs to be done in the present, even the most gargantuan tasks can seem a lot more manageable.

2. Treat yourself. Reaching particular milestones in your project deserves rewarding. Allowing yourself some kind of treat – be it food, drink, or an entire day off (see below) – can be just what your body and mind need before hitting the work again.

3. Take time off. Seriously, taking 24 hours away from your project can work like a miracle cream for morale. Do whatever helps you to de-stress in that time, whether it’s taking a bike ride or killing zombies with peashooters, and see your productivity return stronger than ever on your return to work.

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How to Use One of the Seven Deadly Sins to Your Advantage


Photo courtesy of Ricardo Vacapinta

Several months ago, I spent an entire day in my bathrobe, doing absolutely nothing aside from playing computer games. I literally did not leave the sofa except for trips to the bathroom and trips to the fridge. This was very unusual for me, and occasionally I felt a pangs of guilt when I thought of all the things I “should” have been doing. Those feelings, however, were never quite strong enough to wrench me away from killing a few more zombies with peashooters.

The week following Robe-a-palooza was the most productive I’d had in recent memory, more than enough to make up for the time off, and yet I still felt guilty about “losing” that one particular day.

My point is not to assert that a day or two off from your regular schedule can lead to rejuvenation – you already know that. That’s the whole idea behind weekends, after all. However, I think we (me included) tend to downplay the value of using at least some of our time off as an opportunity to get disgustingly sloth-like and really shut down, at least for a few hours.

When people say they want to make the most of life, usually what they mean is they want to cut down on the number of things they do that don’t apply directly to their main life goals.  Even on their days off, they train themselves to feel bad if they’re not constantly accomplishing something “useful.” Weekends are seen as a time to get all the errands done that didn’t get done during the week, or to participate in a hobby that will make them a more educated or well-rounded person.

And that’s fine, errands and hobbies are great. But sometimes watching DVDs and eating ice cream can be just as worthwhile. That doesn’t mean you have to be a couch potato every weekend – for most of us, that would get pretty boring. It just means that you don’t have to have an “acceptable” justification for occasionally taking a complete day off and doing nothing at all.

Psychologically, this can be difficult to get used to, especially if you consider yourself an active, ambitious person. I’ve been making an effort to schedule a complete rest day at least twice a month, but it’s been hard to embrace the idea, even though physically I feel much better and overall I’ve been getting more done. When people phone me on one of my sloth days and ask me what I’m doing, my first impulse is to hide the fact that I’m watching trashy reality TV marathons in my underwear. I feel like I should say, “I’m catching up on my Italian lessons,” or “I’m just heading out the door to go rock climbing.” Over time, I’m hoping I will adjust to the frame of mind where I don’t feel slightly embarrassed at doing nothing, because I think in general it’s doing me a lot of good.

In a society where we’re constantly bombarded with the ideas of pushing forward and achieving, it’s more important than ever to make sure there’s some balance. Try scheduling in a sloth day or two next month and see what positive changes happen for you.

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How a Few Minutes a Day Can Earn You Freedom for Life

Freedom for Life

Photo courtesy of Bohari Adventures

Last summer, I had steady stream of friends staying with me as house guests. One evening, one of my guests was gazing over my shoulder as I went through my nightly ritual of typing up my to-do list for the following day. After watching me for a minute or two, eventually he shook his head and said, “I couldn’t live like that.”

Er, live like what, exactly?

“With every aspect of my life planned out to the last detail, no room for fun or spontaneity. I would find that extremely boring.”

At that moment I realized just how misunderstood to-do lists are, as I’m one of the most spontaneous people you’ll ever meet. I’ve been known to move to another continent on a whim (twice, in fact), and I frequently drop everything to accept last-minute invitations to hang out with friends, or pop over to Munich for Oktoberfest just because I feel like it, or jump on any other crazy opportunities that come my way.

The only reason I’m able to do these things is because I’ve intentionally built a life structure that allows for that level of freedom, by making sure that all the essential tasks get done and shifted out of the way in the most efficient manner possible. If you’re always staying several steps ahead, which is what a high level of organization allows, then you can easily jet off for a few hours (or a day, or a week) whenever the mood strikes you, without stress or guilt.

I see people who repeatedly take all day to do things that could easily be done in a couple of hours, providing that they would set aside a few minutes the night before to create a plan and a list. When you don’t have a detailed plan, you can spend your whole day not knowing exactly what to do next, backtracking when you realize you forgot to do something, and generally wasting time that otherwise could have been spent on the things you really want to do.

Left to my own devices, I’m pretty much your standard, disorganized, right-brained creative. This is where to-do lists come in handy – allowing me to sculpt that life of freestyle creativity, by ensuring that I get the essential foundation work out of the way first. It’s reasonable to want a life defined by personal freedom, and it only takes a few minutes to put the structural supports in place to allow that freedom.

Do you have a personal organizational system that helps you get things out of the way so you can enjoy your life?

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How to Redefine Positive Thinking for Living in the Real World

Positive Attitude
Image courtesy of Eric Chan

Ask any motivational speaker what the keys to success are, and I promise you the words “positive attitude” will be in there somewhere.

Which is great, and I fully agree, but with all the life-improvement programs out there promising magical results if you just think happy thoughts for long enough, I think many people misinterpret what a positive attitude really is, and then get frustrated when their misinterpretation ends up backfiring on them.

At one time or another, we’ve all been that person – the one who keeps pretending everything is fine as their hard work burns to the ground around them. The theory behind such behavior: “as long as I stay true to my positive attitude, everything will be okay.”

But… that’s not a positive attitude. That’s denial. And ignoring problems is almost never the way to fix them, though I see people doing it all the time and calling it their “positive attitude.” And then when their projects fail, they claim they tried the whole positive attitude thing and it turned out to be a load of crap.

Telling yourself that everything in your world will be amazing all the time is not only unrealistic, it can actually keep you from reaching your goals. Pasting on a fake smile and powering through as if nothing’s ever wrong is not what having a positive attitude is about.

A better path to attainable progress is to be optimistic about the overall picture, but still recognize issues when they arise. Prepare yourself for the fact that problems will occur, and accept that as part of the growth process. Throwing your arms up in the air and saying, “see, I knew positive thinking was too good to be true” doesn’t help. Neither does smiling and pretending that positive thinking fixes everything. Instead, try taking the more empowering standpoint of accepting that you’ve derailed, and reminding yourself that you are capable of figuring out what the solution is. Then you can take the appropriate actions to get yourself back on track and actually feel positive about it.

We all want to move forward with our lives, but we also have to accept that progress is rarely linear. Not only is it okay to experience setbacks, it’s a great opportunity to learn from negative experiences and prove to yourself that you really can recover from anything.

If you’ve got something that’s blocking you at the moment and you’re either wallowing in frustration or trying to drown it in positive thoughts, take a few minutes today to sit down and actually work through the issue (if you have an iPad, Unstuck is a great app to help with this). What are your options for moving forward? What can you do to keep this problem from happening again in the future? Use a positive attitude not as a magic wand, but as a tool to deconstruct obstacles and build something stronger.

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