Things Life Taught Me

I’ve always been optimistic about aging. Although I was never a kid who was dying to be 10 when they were 9 years old or the 19-year old that was desperate to be 21 so I could get into bars, getting older was never something I longed for nor dreaded.  I distinctly remember a time when one of my friends had a meltdown because he was turning 28 and was nearing the 30-year-old mark, which seemed like middle age back then. That seriously makes me laugh out loud when thinking back to that moment.

Recently I saw this article: 30 things you should know before 30 and I equally guffawed aloud. Maybe 30-year-olds these days are this savvy but I swear I learned most of this stuff just last year. (kidding, sort of).  I’ve yet to have a teacher or mentor in my life who has impressed upon these lessons. It doesn’t mean that people haven’t influenced my thinking but most of what I know if from my own experience, which has been my best teacher. There are no college courses like the school of hard knocks. With that in mind, I’d like to add to this list a few quintessential lessons that I have learned that shapes so much of my thinking today.

The 10 Ten Things You Should Know When By 40.

  1. Quit the “Can’t”: With so much research done on neural plasticity and intelligence, there is literally nothing that we “can’t” do. Wgrowth-mindset.027e may not be able to do it this moment, but if we literally put our mind to it, we can become good at something at a minimum of 20 hours and an expert at it within 5 years. The first step is to develop a growth mindset and reframing failure. You can unravel long seated habits and create new skills when you omit this sort of language and thinking in your life. Period. Here’s an example: I became an “expert” at non-smoking because I practiced being a non-smoker. If I made a “mistake” and puffed on a cigarette, I wasn’t harsh on myself but admitted that I am learning a new habit of non-smoking and got back to trying my best. Over time I got momentum with longer times of non-smoking and eventually I no longer identified with this addiction. Now I the only thing I “can’t” believe is that I thought breaking this addiction was hard. It’s not when you embrace the right mindset.
  2. Travel Opens Your Mind: People are a product of their culture + experience. These 2 things create the majority of their beliefs. And our beliefs create the filter in which we see the world. If their culture is rigid and experience is limited, then their problem-solving skills are few and they often feel victimized by the world. Travel exposes people to new ideas and gains a variety of life experience, they can break out of their culture’s restricted perspectives and be more resilient and creative.
  3. Anger Must be Fleeting: My friend Shannon actually taught me this. She experienced a really big betrayal in her life but she explained to me that she could only be angry and rant about it for 3 days. After those 3 days, she no longer permitted this concern to dominate her thoughts or conversation. She set time limits to her emotional investment in the “wrongs” in her life. I loved that and have used that experience in my own life. I actually think 3 days is too generous, but that’s because I have practiced this enough times. I try to let go of my irritation within 24 hours. There are 2 thoughts that usually release me from the grips anger: compassion for others (“If they knew better, they’d do better. They aren’t evil, they just don’t have all the facts/skills”) and compassion for myself (“You made an error of judgement, but now you know. Now that you know better, you can do better”). If I am in a red hot rage, then I do eft/tapping on my meridians points. It looks weird (unless you live in China–you see this sort of thing all the time) but it really helps to diminish negative emotion. Then when I am cooled off a bit more, I make a list of all the things I appreciate about this person or myself. This really helps to reframe the emotion attached to the person.
  4. Life Is A Yoga Tree Pose: Have you ever tried to balance one leg at a time? Sometimes you can stand on one leg for a long time before switching to the other. Other times, you keep toppling over. This is how life goes. Sometimes we can maintain a “posture” for a long time, which I often equate with emotion, but eventually, we have to switch legs. So goes life. Sometimes life is full of absolute joy and sometimes it is shit. But whatever it is, these emotions and situations will pass; and I can always choose to stand on my other “foot” if I want to change my perspective.
  5. Give to Get: True relationships are built on trust and support.  Your generosity is proportional to the generosity you experience. It’s not that you only do things quid pro quo but what you practice in abundance (patience, appreciation, kindness) is tantamount to your experience.
  6. Ask, Not Assume: Misunderstandings happen. Best to ask questions rather than assume someone is doing you wrong intentionally. But don’t be patronizing–be genuinely curious. I gain a lot of insight into their perspective when I ask thoughtful questions and it improves my relationship overall. I do this all the time with my daughter and I can’t tell you how much this has helped me of be a better parent.
  7. Shut Up and Sit Down: Meditate Daily. Your brain and body will thank you. The amount of time isn’t as important as the consistency of the practice.
  8. Three’ss the Charm: 3 is the magic number so they say. Take a hint. When I hear something 3 times, I know it’s something that the universe is telling me to pay attention to and I do.
  9. It’s All Good: Our life’s tradegy is often our best blessing. Lately I was discussing my father’s death and how it took a toll on my adolescence but how I no longer look back with grief and longing. Although I wish he could have been a part of my adult life, I know that my life is for the better as a result of his loss. That trauma in my life helped cultivate so many important life skills that I might not have developed if it hadn’t have happened. There are No Victims, only people who give away power to circumstances. You can make diamonds out of life’s pressure if you choose to do so.
  10. Don’t Wait For The Lesson: If you know what you are doing is not helpful in pursuing the type of dreams you have or develops you into the person you want to become, then STOP it! Don’t wait until there is some drama that you have to contend with. Be smart in advance and make changes that will produce the outcome you want. Right. Now.

What am I missing? What would you add to this list?

 

Spring Cleaning for the Mind

It’s another holiday here in China–May Day, Labor Day, and we have off from school. One of my big projects is to go through my stuff and get rid of things that I don’t plan to bring to Laos. I’ve come to appreciate time off from work, not because I am tired and need rest as insomuch that I appreciate this down time and space to reflect and pursue interests and projects–a bit of “spring cleaning” for my mind. Every little holiday I have a deep need to either travel, to read, and/or to learn something new. I don’t want to squander my time because I know how immensely precious it is. I have come to crave this time in which I can be creative, taking the time to entertain new ideas and challenge my existing dogma. This is the power of creating space and gaps in our mundane lives.

Innnovation happens in the white space, it happens in the gaps between the things we think we are supposed to be doing. But if we are squeezing all of the white space out of our lives by filling it with actiivity, then we are not pruning and saying no to things on occassion then we are not going to have the space to innovate and think.

-Todd Henry- Author of The Accidental Creative

I can hear you thinking: “But Judy, you are lucky–we don’t have the amount of time off that you do!” Well, that is probably true, but there are numerous ways to create this space in your life. I am going to share 5 ways.

Practice Mindfulness

Are you breathing? Good–then you can do this! So, I am starting with the easiest, in my opinion, to do because EVERYONE can spend 1-2 minutes a day being mindful. All it takes is paying close attention to something, most commonly your breath. Right now, you can do this. Close your eyes to limit your distractions, and breath in, filling your lungs and belly with breath. Hold it for 3 seconds and exhale. Repeat 2 more times, paying close attention to your breath. Takes about a minute to do this, but your brain went offline and carved out some new neural real estate for new ideas to emerge in your brain’s network.

Increase Your Bandwidth

Another way to create space and cultivate a higher quality of life is by quitting your addiction to “junk food” for the brain. This could be watching senseless cat videos on YouTube or the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model or Jersey Shore. I know that this seems obvious but many people find “tuning out” a really important way to decompress after their day. The only problem is that this activity doesn’t actually allow for your brain to recover.

The average American is watching television an average of 4 hours a day. 4 HOURS OF TELEVISION.

4 hours of television over the average adult life span means that they spend about 13 years sitting in front of the boob tube. So they are watching television for 13 years–that’s over a decade! People have a lot more time than they think they do.

-Brendon Burchard-

However, there are countless other ways to promote mental hygiene and create some space and relaxation in your life. Going for a walk, exercise or doing yoga are the best replacements because these activiites inspire new cell generation and increase the flow of oxygen to your brain. But if you are feeling lazy then reading a good book or looking at the stars provide you with a brain break and are a fix for the mundane in our lives.

focus on becoming

Build Meaningful and Inspiring Relationships

What you spend time on is just as important as WHO you spend time with.  The quality of our relationships can really impact our emotional lives. Building real relationships with people who can fuel you rather than empty your tank is super important. No one wants to be around a “Debbie Downer” and the reason is that you actually have a chemical response in your brain that depresses you. Surround yourself with positive and interesting people so that this personal network helps you to discover new ways of
thinking and opens you up to fresh perspectives. Bumping into these novel ideas helps you to reframe your current mindset around ideas that may be causing you stress, or at least puts on a “pause” button from your worrying mind.

Schedule some Deep Thinking Work for 1 hour a week.

alberteinstein1.jpgI believe that thinking is becoming a lost art. Our attention to social media makes it so much easier to confuse someone else’s opinion as our own. However, if we were to take some time for introspection, examining our values and beliefs, then we would uncover what is our truth and our purpose in life. That sort of thing is extremely liberating and fulfilling. Spending some time weekly to journal and write about what has inspired and interested you this week makes it easier to prioritize our tasks and can be extremely motivating. This “Power Hour” is game-changer.

So how do you carve out this time? Well, one way is to wake up earlier so you have an uninterrupted moment of calm (this is what I do) but not everyone is a lark. So another effective productivity hack includes clustering similar tasks that use the same amount of cognitive power in order to create blocks of time to do work that is meaningful. You can create a theme for the day or for those blocks of time so that you can really focus on converting the “to do list” to be the “to done list”.  You would be so amazed at how a little reorganization in your schedule can have a big effect on your week. Once your time is organized, you will definitely see gaps and space emerge which can be devoted to more exciting pursuits and opportunities to examine solutions to problems you face in your personal and professional life.

Travel

Travel is, in a lot of ways, the easiest way to jostle your brain and expand your horizon. You don’t need to plan a 10-day vacation to Bali to do it either, it can be as simple as driving/biking/walking to work using a different road or path. Or taking a trip to your local museum or park. What about having a picnic outside instead of eating at the kitchen table? No matter how small or large the journey, this break from the norm creates novelty in your brain and builds new networks and connections.

They say that “time is a luxury that most of us can’t afford”, so I hope these ideas inspire you to think about how you might “clean up” your time so that you can engage in more meaningful work or stimulating perspectives.

Plasticine

It’s the second law of thermodynamics that everything moves toward entropy; so you know that things aren’t going to remain static and things are going to be changing. And no matter what you are trying to accomplish in your life, you need to learn how to not only learn how to cope with change but actually how to harness it and leverage it.

-Dr. Norman Doidge

Most of us grew up thinking that our personality and inclinations begin the calcify process when we are about 7 years old and are solidified when we are in our early 20s. But that myth has been absolutely disputed and proven wrong–if you change your mind, you can change your body and transform the quality of your life. We’ve heard countless stories of what seem like anomalies of people getting over incurable disease or other disabling health issues with a thought–one thought–that they could be a better version of themselves.  When we think a thought over and over again, it begins to harden into a belief and our beliefs become our personality which determines the intensity and consistency of our moods from day to day. However, we are merely one thought away from growing, from healing, from becoming a new and improved version of ourselves, and neuroscientistfocus meme.jpg like Dr. Norma Doidge (quoted above) is demonstrating this in spades. They are showing that these beliefs literally rewire our neural connections and, indeed, we are plasticine in nature, with these new ideas shaping our bodies, ergo our reality as well with new synapses being constructed and old ones being pruned. This is a wonderful and simple explanation of your fantastic plastic brain explained, giving a lot of insight into how your brain changes.

Jean Piaget, one of the most influential cognitive psychologists of the 20th century, suggested that one’s intelligence is essentially knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, implying discernment of our experience and wagering a risk to grow. Carol Dweck adds to this definition by reminding us to keep an open mind to meet challenges and put in the effort to overcome them as the essence of evolving one’s vision and developing life mastery. Her research on “growth mindset” vs. “fixed mindset” is catching on in schools and businesses, and is having a significant impact on changing the way people learn and companies conduct business. It has given license for people to take risks and make mistakes because doing so literally grows your brain and develops you cognitively.

On a personal level, earlier this year, I decided to apply the 2 minute rule to cultivating change in my physical health. I made it a daily goal to get some exercise and agreed that I could spend at least 2 minutes a day towards this goal. I believed that this small investment of time would be worth the effort and could create change. What’s interesting is that, over time, what appeared to be drudgery has now turned into a natural desire. My 2 minutes has easily turned into 20 minutes. And what is fascinating is how it has improved not just my physical state, but also my mental state. I am beginning to not just feel more emotionally content but my attitude has shifted to agreeing that I’m worthy of something better. In other words, I exercise because I’m worth it, and this self-improvement has made a great contribution to my quality of life. I’ve had to detach from who I have been in order to give birth to who I can become. The change in my waistline is just an inevitable outcome of these new physical and mental habits. And it all started with my thought that 2 minutes, well spent, could have health benefits. Now I believe this with every fiber of my being.

This is just one example, but this shift in one area of my life has cultivated momentum in transforming other areas of my life–a snowball is in motion, as I wonder what else do I think is impossible for myself which might actually be a probable outcome if I change my beliefs around it. I double dog dare you to experiment with this concept yourself–change a thought, repeat the new thought over and over again, make a new habit around it and observe the results. I think you will be surprised at you uproot long held beliefs and recreate yourself in a relatively short amount of time.

Remember, you are plasticine.

Getting off My “but”

Do you know that 25% of people abandon their New Year’s Resolution after 1 week? I’m not sure why this is, but I reckon that it has to do more with the confidence in its achievement, rather than the unattainability of the goal. However, I also believe that upfront planning for its success, will yield greater “stick-to-it”ness and keep a person on track.

With that in mind, as I sat down to write out my goals for this year, I remembered that no matter what I put down, I have to CHOOSE it.  It had to be so compellingjohn-burroughs and juicy that I have the endurance to meet its challenge, especially if the distance from where I am is far from where I want to be. Did you know that Khloe Kardashian worked out five to six days a week for two and a half years before she reached her fitness goals? Although I am not a Kardshian fan, I have to deeply admire her level of commitment. I get bummed out after a month of sloppy adherence to a regimen so the fact that someone can last a whole 2 years, well, I honor and am inspired by them.

However, my past does not have to equal my future, to paraphrase Tony Robbins. I just have to get off my “but” with a no excuse approach to meeting my goals. Just because I have attempted to do something in the past and have failed, doesn’t mean that I ALWAYS have to fail; it just means that the strategies I used weren’t effective at making the change that I wanted and I have to reevaluate them. I think I also have to be more honest about the time it may take to achieve that goal.

Have you ever read the Art of War by Sun Tzu? In it, he talks about the 9 situations in which one engages in combat and the propensity for retreat. He suggests that one must “burn all the boats” so that there is nothing left except for winning. And I wonder how I can apply this to my goals. I’ve thought the best way to do this is to make a list of all of my “buts” and how I will overcome them when and if I encounter them. For example, let’s say that one of my goals is to get into great shape through strength training, and one of my excuses to not workout is when I get sick or have a cold (which is a very likely “but”). So then I come up with at least 3 ways in which I can counter that:

  1. I want to get into my best shape ever through strength training but I have a cold. So I will bounce on the rebounder to get my lymphatic system going for a minute and then do 1 rep of a circuit (maybe 2 mins long).
  2. I want to get into my best shape ever through strength training but I have a headache. So I will give myself 2 pain relievers, wait 10 mins,  and then do 1 rep of a circuit (maybe 2 mins long).
  3. I want to get into my best shape ever through strength training but I have the stomach flu and feel too weak and ill to work out. So I will give myself 1 day off, but never 2 days off in a row in order to keep my momentum, and I will do a light workout the next day, even if it is for 1 minute.

Working off my BUT

Now that I have some ideas on how I can counter those obstacles, then I am more likely to follow through with my alternative plan. Planning really makes all the difference. And I do believe in the adage that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, which is why I think so many of us fall short on our goals. I’ve never used this strategy before so I am looking forward to trying it out this year, and I believe that I will find more success when I approach challenges in this way. I also think that this strategy will help me to become more patient with my progress, because when we make effort and develop momentum, we are more likely to stay on track.

So good-bye “but”, and hello “so”!

 

Moving Towards Fear

I am often in awe of people who can be so deeply passionate about something–how did they turn an interest into full-blown commitment towards a problem, cause or issue? I was reading  about solving challenging math problems, and I find it incredibly inspiring and fascinating how one can dedicate years to working on a math theorem.  I know, how geeky of me, but really? — how did they overcome the anxiety, self-doubt and worry in order to explore something so diligently and deeply. Their unfailing curiosity and dedication is really something of a phenomena.

But I think that there are lots of life lessons to be gleaned from people like Andrew Wiles. And I really appreciate his nonchalant demeanor  and advice towards reaching a goal:

It’s like training in sport. If you want to run fast, you have to train. Anything where you’re trying to do something new, you have to go through this difficult period. It’s not something to be frightened of. Everybody goes through it.

-Andrew Wiles-

edison

I find his perspective refreshing, in which conquering a challenge is a skill that can be developed and mastered. However, when you look at things from his point of view, you move from fear to faith in possibility.

His belief in his ability to figure things out superseded his fear of failure due to the mindset he cultivated: just because I haven’t solved this problem today, doesn’t mean I CAN’T ever do it–I just haven’t done it YET.

I think this attitude helps you to move towards your fear, engage with it, and eventually crush it because this belief creates a feeling of certainty and compels one to keep making strides. With that in mind, thinking bigger helps one to put in more effort, to the point of success.

For example, look at these beliefs:

  • Failing at something doesn’t mean I am a failure.
  • Doing something stupid today doesn’t mean that I am going to do something stupid tomorrow.
  • I can learn from my mistakes and grow from them.

Pretty empowering, right?

If you can give yourself the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you have what it takes right now to get started, and can acquire all the skills, knowledge and resources along the journey, then mounting an extraordinary feat seems inevitable.

As I think about the year ahead and the things I wish to accomplish, I want to do things that scare me in order to gain the confidence that comes from playing full out. Perhaps you will too.