Tomorrow I wrap up my #100plus100plus1 fitness challenge. It's a month-long fitness streak, with 100 pushups, 100 situps and a one-mile run each day. How did I come up with those numbers? I don't know; they just seemed like nice, round numbers that would get me over the hump of a stalled fitness regimen. Plus, it would force me to run, something I've never liked doing. I even did a couch-to-5K program over the summer and promptly stopped running when I was done with it.
I still don't like to run, but at least I'm not afraid of it anymore.
I wound up doing some pushups that were modified to be more difficult, because by mid-month doing sets of 30 and 35 weren't that big a deal.
And my core got a lot stronger, which was a necessary quantity. I was worried during the first week I would injure my lower back with all the situps, but by the middle of the month I could 20 or 25 and feel it, but not hurt. At the end of the month, I actually feel strong.
The point really isn't that I did these things. It's that I did something. I could just as easily have done 127 pushups, 68 situps and a 1.13-mile run every day. Or walked six miles or climbed 1,000 stairs or played with the dog for three hours or spent 45 minutes combing my beard or pressed my mouse button precisely 1,283 times.
It would be something to get me out of bed/off the couch/away from the television.
Your turn. It doesn't matter what your goal is. Make it achievable, but make sure you have to work for it. Report back.
Important: This post is for people who are frustrated with where they are in life and want to make changes to turn that around. If you are medically depressed or suicidal, this post is not for you. Here is a list of suicide hotlines by state and here is a list of American Psychiatric Association offices by state. You'll still need to take the step, but one of those is a better direction for you than this post.
I've read a lot of motivational, self-help stuff. Not as much as some, but certainly enough to know that a lot of them assume that you are able function at the same pace and capacity as a person who is generally happy or that you have already reached that low that causes the epiphany that lets you say, "It starts today."
I'm going to assume that you're just in a rut; maybe you don't like your job, maybe you've got just enough debt that you'll never get ahead, maybe you're just going through the motions daily. Here are some actionable tips that I think will help change your attitude over time, and will push you in the direction of where you want to be.
I've implemented this stuff and I'm getting happier and stronger, and while I still struggle with some of the shit I had going on before, getting through what I need to get through seems wholly achievable, and I've been much more productive since putting these things into practice.
1. Eat high oxytocin foods. This was James Altucher's suggestion (full post here). I implemented it, and within a couple of weeks, I started back up blogging, we ramped up the wedding planning, I started making beer and I managed to get 75 bags of brush together and about 3,000 pounds of construction garbage piled so we could rent a roll-off. I still have a 9-hour work day and sleep a full night – I didn't get more time, I just got more energy and a new attitude. Altucher's breakfast suggestion is eggs + banana + pepper (it doesn't matter what kind of pepper – black pepper, bell pepper, hot pepper, whatever). Since I'm a big exerciser, I add some stuff; my normal breakfast is a pepper, apple and either onion or potato cut up in a 4-egg omelet, plus a banana on the side. Every day. I feel like Superman most days.
2. Drink more water. Start when you first wake up – you would be really thirsty if you went eight hours during the day without any water, and you just slept for eight hours without a sip. I drink about 4 liters (128 oz) a day (I also work nights and from home, so maybe that's going to be a lot for you, but I bet you can drink more than you do now). When we're dehydrated, our brains don't function as well as they could. And if you reach for something sugary or caffeinated instead of water, you're actually making it worse. Go ahead and have a cup of coffee, but drink water alongside it, and get hydrated in the morning before you start on the coffee.
3. Get some fresh air. You don't need a lot. I submit that 60 seconds of being outside and just breathing at the sky a couple of times a day is going to vastly improve your energy and attitude. Even on a cold or rainy day. There's still air out there. (Disclaimer, because we're stupid and litigious: If it's actually dangerous out there – hurricane, tornado, active shooter, stay the hell inside, moron.)
4. Get a little exercise. And I mean a little. You need to be a little more active than what you do at work. If you sit at a desk all day, a 20-minute walk will do you good. If you have to have a one-on-one meeting that doesn't require sitting at a computer, make it a walking meeting. Drop and do 10 pushups a couple of times a day. You'll actually become more popular in the office for that, as opposed to being the office weirdo. If you walk seven miles a day on a retail floor, a 20-minute walk isn't going to do it; you'll need to do something to get your heart rate up. Jog, jumping jacks, squats in place, that sort of thing. Again, you only need a few minutes. If you want something a little more difficult to start with, do a 30-day #100plus100plus1 challenge.
5. Create something. It could be a recipe, a painting, a spear. Whatever. Use your hands, and make it require some time. It could suck. It doesn't matter. You took some materials, put time in, and made those materials something else. Accept the success of completion.
6. Take care of something. When your dog has to pee, you have the option of either getting your ass off the couch and getting outside with the dog, or getting your ass off the couch to try to get pee stains (and smell) out of your rug. Which is more appealing to you? If something else is relying on you, you can't spend all your time being a selfish, miserable prick.
We've become quite the "right-now" society. We want everything, and we want it right now. Some things we want so right now we'll wait in long lines for them instead of just giving it a couple of days. All you people who updated to iOS7 right when it was released and spent two hours stalled in queue? I waited two days and updated in 10 minutes while I made breakfast. You got frustrated, I got to read my Flipboard while chowing on my giant plate of food.
We eat fast food, we prefer gas grills because we don't have to wait for the coals to get hot, and we'd rather microwave a cup of water with a tea bag in it for two minutes than take eight minutes to boil water and five minutes to steep loose tea, even if the second tastes so much better. We generate piles of garbage by using our one-cup coffee makers with K-Cups instead of waiting for pots of coffee to brew (come on, you don't drink four cups a day? yeah you do).
Home brewed scotch ale, maybe a couple of days early, but, well, yum.
I spent a large chunk of time this summer taking care of brush in the yard. And by "taking care of brush," I mean I filled 80 lawn bags with wood. Some of it I had to take a hand saw to. I've also, with a couple hours' help on some of the items I couldn't move myself, put together about a ton and a half of construction garbage that we'll get rid of after we rip up the carpet.
Could it have been done more quickly? Sure. But I committed myself to the process of getting it done. It didn't need to be done now, and it wasn't a skill job that I didn't know how to do, I just mustered the patience to let it take some time.
And then it came down to beer.
People have been drinking beer since someone in Egypt left a pot of grain out in the rain and went to go visit his in-laws. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) I enjoy beer. I've toured breweries, so I have a basic understanding of the process. I like to cook, I have some patience, and I was curious, so I started homebrewing.
This glass is from my first batch, a scotch ale. I started drinking it a little early, but there are plenty of bottles still gathering some carbonation. You can see that, even in a thick-walled water glass, it still has a little head on it with some lacing (that's when the head sticks to the glass). It looks like beer and behaves like beer. It also smells like beer and tastes like beer.
It's not amazing, but it's better than a lot of what's out there commercially.
I went in with low expectations (there's a lot of process involved and it was my first batch), but I figured if it came out awful, I could walk it back and see what I can do better, and all I lost was some time and five gallons of liquid I'd dump in the bushes and let the neighborhood fauna eat the solids. I didn't see as much fermenting as I expected, and there was a small leak in the bottling bucket that I had to contain. But it's a drinkable beer, and I'm happy with it.
I will certainly change up some of the process with my next batch, and there are some minor equipment adjustments I've made (bigger boil pot, for instance and a new bottling bucket), but really, all it takes is some patience. Once it's in the fermenting bucket, it takes a week or so. It may take a day or two or three in the bottling bucket. It should sit in bottle for a couple of weeks getting carbonated.
It's a long time to wait for something I could grab at the gas station, but I control the taste and get the satisfaction of knowing I did it myself. I'm sure somehow that makes it taste a little better.
Henry David Thoreau [WikiMedia Commons]
If it were awful, I'd know, because I'm also kind of a critic and my own worst enemy.
I've never been able to sit down and read Walden (kind of like watching "Last of the Mohicans," I just fall asleep every time I get started), but I listened to an audio version of it while I was working on the brush and the construction waste. It was therapeutic because I think Thoreau just got to the point where he didn't understand process anymore, and to keep his own work moving along, he had to go be self-sufficient for a little while.
I get that from the way he wrote of his neighbor, the man who worked hard and so had to eat a high-protein, high-fat diet to maintain his energy, and had to keep working hard to earn the wages to maintain that diet. A couple of hours on the pond, and Thoreau said he had enough fish for a few days, and he could grow most of the rest of what he needed, or buy it cheaply in bulk and store it.
Whatever his motivation, it's clear that Thoreau got satisfaction from doing stuff himself, and it motivated him to keep going. The bit about him building the chimney? That's appreciation of process, even from his hunt for materials that had previously served in a fireplace.
Did he know any of his undertakings would work? No, but when something went wrong, he tried again and again until he got it right. Nobody wants a roof to cave in or a chimney to collapse in the middle of a New England winter.
My challenge to you: Try something that requires at least a 48-hour process. You don't have to work for those 48 hours straight, you just have to handle some maintenance along the way. Cook something that takes a couple of days. Make a walking stick from a branch (including finishing it and attaching a loop or a top-piece). Make your next glass of wine yourself.
Some of the things I find most interesting in people are:
What they've tried
What they've failed at
What they've learned
What they enjoy
In the most interesting people I know, item four stems directly from the first three. And each of those stems directly from the one before it. Try something, make a mistake, learn, then weed out the stuff you enjoy.
The most interesting people I know seem to have the following two traits in common:
• Willingness to fail (or injure themselves, I guess, as a type of failure)
That's really it. You don't need anything else.
So why is it that so many people are so fucking dull?
It's because the majority of their knowledge comes from people more interesting than they are. It comes from listening to people's stories. From PBS. From The Discovery Channel.
If your story starts, "I once saw this show about a guy who...," I'd rather be talking to the guy who, not you.
Sorry not sorry.
So, my dog. He sleeps a lot. Typically I'm asleep six to eight hours, so I'll guess he's asleep for four to six of those. During my nine-hour work shift, he's asleep about six hours. During the other seven to nine hours of the day, if I'm home, he's asleep at least five. We're looking at 15 hours or more of sleep a day.
It must be exhausting being a dog.
Then again, I can see that it is. Dude checks out everything. Everything. He smells my pants as I put them on – no, really, I'll be sliding my right leg in and his nose is pressed up against my left knee – if a leaf blows across the yard, he investigates. He checks out the tree and the mailbox post on our front lawn at the beginning and end of a walk.
Each ingredient we pull from the refrigerator; every hammer, screwdriver or wrench we pull from the toolbox; every human who comes to the door, Rufus's nose is there, figuring out what it is and where it's been.
In fact, right now, he's sniffing at a closed door because he has to know what's on the other side.
He's curious about everything, and he investigates until he's satisfied.
You, on the other hand, just sit on the couch until you're satisfied you know enough about some other guy's trip to the Mojave to be interesting enough at dinner tomorrow to earn another invitation.
Here are some ideas for becoming a more interesting person. Report back if you try any.
1. Learn about something you use every day. Figure out how it works, why it does what it does, what its history is, when people started using it, and how you could make your own. Own that shit. Coffee, pencils, toilets, flowers, I don't care what it is. Get the first-hand knowledge, do your own research and experimenting.
2. Learn about something you have no interest in. It's going to come in handy someday. Electrical wiring, gravity, picture frames. Enjoy the process of learning. But do number one first – that you'll do for the joy of learning about the thing, this one you'll do for the joy of learning itself.
3. Make something. A website, a sculpture, dinner, a shirt. Do it from scratch. Learn the steps, put it together. If it's ugly, broken or disgusting, great. You still made it, and you learned something in the process. If it's amazing, pick something else. Keep making stuff until you fail. Every time you succeed, you put one more thing in your arsenal that you can do. Every time you fail, you put one more thing to improve at on your list.
That should be plenty for you to do for a while. Send me pictures.
Simon Rich is a 30-ish comedy writer (maybe not quite yet, since his bar mitzvah was in 1997). Two weeks ago, I'd never heard of him. I grabbed some David Sedaris off the shelf at the library and perused the new fiction racks, and picked up Rich's novel What in God's Name. It has an organizational chart on the back cover, with God as CEO of Heaven Inc. I figured I'd already read a book this year about Hell as a telemarketing firm and, well, I was at the library. If the first few pages were awful, I'd just return it unread. Wouldn't be the first time.
The premise here is that God created this company (Heaven Inc.) to farm xenon from the earth's atmosphere. It had some side businesses, too, but one day God was bored so he decided to create humans as a diversion. He then went and dropped Heaven's unemployment rate by drawing up all these different human-related departments like prayer intake (God never actually reads the prayers) and the miracle department, where angels work in cubicles to make miracles happen.
One day, frustrated with people, God decides he's just going to extinguish the human race. Forget about his beloved NASCAR, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Yankees. Nobody was listening to his prophet Raoul (who ran around the streets of New York in his underwear with a cardboard sign dictated by God yelling at people), and he was just tired of the enterprise. So God sends his company a memo saying that in a month, all human-related departments are going to close and most people working those jobs will be laid off (but they'd still enjoy some company benefits like discounted gym memberships).
God is going to, instead, open an Asian fusion restaurant called Sola.
Craig, a miracle department employee, convinces God to save the humans if he can answer one prayer. God tells him sure, he just has to call his shot. That is, if the one you pick doesn't work out, you don't get another chance. So Craig and his cubicle neighbor, the newly promoted Eliza, get to work on picking a prayer to answer.
They find what you'd think would be an easy one. A prayer from someone named Sam that he and a girl named Laura get to be together. OK, that's not so easy at first. But take, also, that it's stapled to a related prayer: Laura wants her and Sam to be together. Also, it turns out they live six blocks apart in lower Manhattan.
Obviously the world winds up saved, but the journey's fun, so pick it up and follow along. But here's the thing.
Laura wants to be with Sam, and Sam wants to be with Laura. They have a couple of chances during that month and both just make it awkward. This is apparently a frequent complaint for angels – they keep giving humans every chance in the world to make the right choice, and they keep blowing it.
They don't know it, but Sam and Laura need to kiss to save the world. They want nothing more, anyway, and to do so would literally save the world from extermination.
That thing you've been putting off because it's a little difficult and might perhaps be uncomfortable to start? What if it would save the world if you'd just fucking do it?
Happiness research is one of the things that pop psychology has done a lot of the past generation or so. They measure happiness through things like physiology – fatigue, stress levels, that sort of thing – and asking questions. The other thing many of these studies ask is "What would make you more happy?" Frequently the answer is something like more money or more stuff or less debt or more education or something like that.
But what people really want is more time. When follow-up studies are done after people have more money or less debt or more stuff or whatever, they're not showing increased levels of happiness. But when you give people time to pursue their hobbies and spend time with their families and friends, they're much happier.
I spent a lot of my 20s and the first few years of my 30s taking on a lot. Work, school, volunteer work, networking events – I would be out four, five, six nights a week until midnight or after, only to get up at 5am and do it all over again.
I was frequently exhausted.
And I get that way now sometimes, still, but I've done some things to make changes. I go to bed early. I set aside time for hobbies like reading, writing and recreational sports leagues.
Toward the end of getting rid of some of the sense of being overwhelmed that still creeps in, I read a lot of manifesto-type stuff. Things like TheMinimalists.com, Jeff Goins's The Writer's Manifesto, and if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a huge fan of Steven Pressfield's The War of Art and Julien Smith's The Flinch.
One of my favorites of these is one I read recently called How to be Legendary by Johnny B Truant. Here's a guy who knows what it's like to start a novel and then leave it in the closet for 12 years before picking it back up. Who wants to improve his physique and pays a personal trainer a bunch of money to tell him stuff he already knows. Who really just needed to say fuck it and do what he needed to do to spend time with his family and enjoy his life.
One of the take-away quotes for me is this (emphasis mine):
Nobody has any right to tell you that you're going in the wrong direction or that you're not doing as much as you could do. It doesn't matter what you do or how much you do. What matters is that you do the best you can do relative to what you're able to do. This is not a game of money or material rewards or traditional definitions of success. It's a game of you vs. you, and only you have any business steering your own ship.
In other words, you decide what you're going to do and how much you're going to do, and fuck everybody else. You're the only one who can get in your own way, so stand back and let yourself rise.
I'm going to recommend this book for anyone feeling stuck, floundering, or looking to make some change. Also, it's free, so you may as well get the book and take a couple of hours of your time to make a difference in your own life.
It's the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and an innocent field in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere, there's a memorial service going on. Somewhere, someone's still applauding Clint Eastwood for blaming Barack Obama for sending troops to Afghanistan, which actually happened in December of 2001, during George W. Bush's first year in office, in the wake of those attacks. Somewhere – a lot of somewheres, actually – someone is crying for a lost family member, friend, or stranger who died that day. And somewhere, someone at a law enforcement agency is taking credit for stopping a terrorist plot set for the anniversary that may or may not have actually been in the works (it's tough when "success" means that nothing happened).
These are all fine ways to remember 9/11. Except the Clint Eastwood thing. That was just weird.
But a lot of people forget something else that happened immediately after the planes hit the towers that Tuesday morning. A lot of young people – the supposedly disengaged, video game generation, the first to grow up with the Internet in their homes and so supposedly with no real ability to connect with other humans face to face – became part of something bigger. They stood up and joined the military, said "never again" and went off to fight Bush's battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another group of the same generation picked up signs and joined their elders on picket lines and in getting arrested for the sake of peace – don't go off killing the vast majority of people in those countries who had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.
People got engaged. They made changes in their lives. And some people even started living like it could happen again, to them, and they were going to achieve their dreams so that if it did happen tomorrow, they'd be able to say they'd lived out those dreams.
And now we're back to moments of silence and the two-party blame game, and we're pretty much just sitting or standing around being armchair citizens and Monday morning political quarterbacks and we're just the same group of people who got attacked 11 years ago. Only more paranoid.
It's time to get back to living our dreams, to creating things, to being more awesome. Will that make people dislike us again? Probably, but if you're going to be hated, make it because people are jealous, not because you're stupid or lazy or disengaged. Today, get ready to do something amazing, because tomorrow, someone might fly a plane into your desk.
I've read Fear and Loathing, but I read it in paperback, which means I didn't get the jacket copy when I read the book.
It's a good reminder that the book started out as an assignment for Sports Illustrated, which wanted Thompson to write a 250-word caption for a motorcycle race in Las Vegas.
That's right. It's a sports book.
It's also a true crime book. The lawyer on the trip was an L.A. lawyer Thompson was using as a primary source on an investigative news piece about a shooting by sheriffs in the Hispanic community, and because Thompson wasn't a member of that community, it was clear to the reporter the only person who wanted him interviewing the lawyer was the lawyer.
Thompson took him to the motorcycle race so that they could get out of the community and could talk.
There were plans for the trip highlighted in the book, and while maybe the objectives laid out – the investigative news piece and the race caption – were achieved, at some point for Thompson the plan changed and the book that became the legacy of that trip was something else altogether.
Just because it wasn't the plan, doesn't mean it didn't get accomplished. In fact, something bigger came out of it.
The lesson here is that you need to allow your objectives to evolve.
I saw this with some running this week. I was going to see how many days in a row I could run for 30 minutes, but it only took two days to realize that wasn't a sustainable plan. Day 1 I ran for 30 minutes and some change then couldn't get much of a resistance workout in because I was just done. Day 2 I did a great resistance workout and puttered at 17 minutes of running.
Rather than let it get to me, I've changed my goal to 120 minutes of running a week for three straight weeks. I don't care how far I go, or how fast, the cardio, joint and muscular endurance are important to me.
Day 3 I knew two things: I was returning to the tennis court for the first time in 15 months, and I was dropping my car off at the shop. So what I did was drop my car at the shop and run 15 minutes to work, then after work I ran 15 minutes back to the shop. That gave me plenty of rest and recovery time for tennis, and got me 30 more minutes for the week.
That left me 43 minutes of running to do in 4 days; an easy enough average that I could take a rest day (or 2!) and still hit my goal.
I adjusted my goal downward, yes, but certainly didn't make it easy on myself.
Start off with a plan, but don't quit when it looks like that plan isn't going to work out. Be willing to evolve with the circumstances, otherwise you're just going to keep running into a wall.
Rodney Mullen is an icon from my youth. He was the first to do a lot of things with a skateboard. From a public eye standpoint, he was usually overshadowed by Tony Hawk, but from a skating standpoint, the two were complementary – Hawk did a lot of power moves: high air, lots of twists and spins, while Mullen did a lot of board flips and slides and tricks that take place over a short jump.
While Hawk worked on getting a little more hang time so he could get one more rotation in, Mullen worked on getting his deck to do something different, like ride on its side or do a couple of flips with a rotation while he was in the air.
But this is not about Tony Hawk vs. Rodney Mullen.
This is about creating something.
If you're the kind of person who's into presentation, Mullen's TED talk isn't going to do anything for you. But the content of the talk? Wow.
Mullen's the kind of innovator who never needed a large stage, or a drawing board, or conventional tools. He took the thing he loved doing, and did things with it nobody'd ever done.
Because he wanted to.
Because creating is fun.
So go out, and create something. Because creating's fun. Do it for the sake of creating something. Don't worry about the rest; just go out and do it. And do it with purpose. If you're not ready to create something big, create something small. Let it grow. It doesn't matter what your scale, just create.
There are an astonishing number of people in the U.S. on anti-depressant medication. There are a lot of positivity blogs out there. We've covered choosing your attitude here. There are even whole businesses dedicated to making you feel better through smiling.
Often, that positive face we put is just that – putting on a face. We sell it to ourselves as much as we sell it to others.
But we're not always happy. In fact, I think we're typically not happy: I'm betting our default feelings are somewhere between bored and content with a bit of annoyed thrown in.
Happy is further up on the spectrum, and it's the end of the spectrum we prefer to interact with people on.
There's that other end of the spectrum, though, and I think it's really useful. Let's talk about that other end for a moment.
Misery. Heartbreak. Devastation. These are really useful feelings.
They are feelings that spur people to action. They drive creativity. They drive motivation. They drive an attitude of TURN IT AROUND. Happiness just drives an attitude of maintenance. If you're there, you want to stay that way. If you're miserable, you want to get out of it.
The next time you're miserable, feed off of it. Rather than getting out of it as quickly as you can and maybe faking your way to happy – when, inevitably, you're going to just crash back down – figure out what you need to shake the misery. Put a plan together. Grow out of it. Understand it may not happen overnight. In fact, it may happen so slowly you didn't notice stops along the way. But it's a sustainable way to shake it.
Embrace where you are, not where you wish you could be. You'll get there. Just know it'll take work.
Like what you see? Buy me a cup of coffee. Or a nice dinner. Or a new car. You decide what the information and energy are worth.
Here is a list of books I've read this year. As I write about them, I'll link them to the post.
• Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
• Damned, Chuck Palahniuk
• High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
• Republic, Plato
• The Holy or the Broken, Alan Light
• A Day in the Life of a Minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn
• Triburbia, Karl Taro Greenfield
• Electric Barracuda, Tim Dorsey
• The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
• Naked, David Sedaris
• What in God's Name, Simon Rich
• When Elves Attack, Tim Dorsey
• Skagboys, Irvine Welsh
• The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
• A Walk in the Snark, Rachel Thompson
• Night, Elie Wiesel
• It's Not About the Tights, Chris Brogan
• How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming, Mike Brown
• Relativity, Albert Einstein
• Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
• CTRL ALT Delete, Mitch Joel
• Born Standing Up, Steve Martin
• Possible Side Effects, Augusten Burroughs
• Choose Yourself!, James Altucher
• Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris
• Born on a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet
• Walden, Henry David Thoreau
• Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
• A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
• I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
• Ignorance, Stuart Firestein
• Dubliners, James Joyce
• Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, R. Buckminster Fuller
• Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas
• Growth Hacker Marketing, Ryan Holiday