Establishing Habits for a Productive Life

Posts tagged “habits

Six Secrets to Smarter Decision-Making

“The single most important factor in determining your health is not your parents, or even your environment.  It is the quality of decisions that you make every day.”  – Dr. Daniel Amen (child and adult psychiatrist, self-help advisor, author and medical director of the Amen Clinic)

Let’s face it: we all know what foods are good for us, we all know we need to exercise, we all know we should quit smoking.  We are bombarded with information and advice about how to get healthy.  The problem is not a shortage of information. It is implementing it in our own lives on an everyday basis.

In fact, an eight-decade long study found that the single largest biological factor linked with longevity was conscientiousness.  What seems like our permanent state of “health” is, in large part, the consequences of a lifetime of decision-making. We might tell ourselves that we’ll make better decisions tomorrow, but bad decisions quickly turn into bad habits. And as we age, the consequences become more and more magnified.

The question then is, how do we help ourselves make better decisions? We all know what we should be doing, but we often act in contradicting ways.

I find that my moments of poorest judgement come when I am in a weakened mental state. Have you ever noticed that you tend to make the laziest, most unwise decisions when you are tired, starving, cranky, stressed, or intoxicated? In these states, reaching for that donut may seem like the only thing that will help you get through your day. It is so easy to justify bad decision-making to ourselves, especially when in the short term, it may be easier or more fun than the alternative. Unfortunately, if we tend to indulge our cravings in this way, we might be asking ourselves 3 months down the line, “Where did those 5 lbs come from?”

There are several steps we can take to prevent ourselves from falling into these weakened states in the first place (in order words, ensuring that our brain is well-equipped to make the best possible decisions):

  • Keep your blood sugar stable. Eat high quality, small meals four to five times a day.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep daily. Six or less hours of sleep decreases blood flow to vital organs, particularly the brain.
  • Eliminate toxins.  Heavy drinking or drug use will impair your judgment, making you more likely to do things you might not normally.  Not to mention, the carbs from alcohol probably aren’t going to make those fitness goals any easier.
  • Lose weight.  Did you know that the more weight you put on, the smaller and less efficient your brain becomes?
  • Meditate. A UCLA study published in March 2012 found that meditators have larger amounts of folding in the brain’s cortex than non-meditators, enabling them to process information more quickly.
  • Worry a little bit.  The Longevity Project also found that those with the “don’t worry, be happy” philosophy were a little more inclined to slack on their health than those who worried a small amount.

The type of temporary satisfaction we seek by indulging our cravings or weaknesses may provide pleasure in the short-term, but before you reach for that bag of potato chips, ask yourself if the subsequent guilt and regret is worth it.


How Facebook is Ruining Your Life

I’m a child of the Facebook generation. When I was a freshman in high school, Facebook was just starting to trickle down from the college set to my age group and as a result, much of my high school social life grew within and was influenced by this new virtual space.  It was unfortunate timing, I think, because my friends and I were learning the ropes of social networking right when, emotionally and socially, we needed that kind of desperate competition the least.

In the public sphere there is so much conversation about the merits of Facebook: the political uprisings it enabled! The rekindled connections! The expanded audience for advertisers! As I’ve watched Facebook become a social necessity in the lives of my peers, however, I’ve realized that the vast majority of Facebook use is not only ineffective, but damaging.  What’s more, it has created a new kind of person – one who has learned how to craft their life for, and find great self-affirmation in this virtual space.

While I don’t doubt that many photos are posted because that party really was fun or that vacation really was awesome, I wonder what percentage of content on Facebook is generated for the sole purpose of validating one’s self-worth. Productivity-wise, think how much emotional energy this must consume, and how much time! And for what? 

At the end of the day, which is more valuable? A life lived to be perceived by others, or a life lived for the fulfillment and happiness of oneself?

We all know those people who live on or for Facebook – the ones who set out for an adventure so that they can capture photos to show the world that they too are having fun, the ones who carefully craft status updates to maximize “likes”, the ones who agonize over selecting the perfect profile picture to complement their “image.” I am not saying I’ve been immune to this. I’ve spent my share of time adding and deleting photos, picking which ones might make me look cool or thin or whatever. I do think, though, that now that I’m starting to realize how futile this is, that I’m becoming a little more jaded about it all.

At the start of this summer, I made a deliberate effort to step away from Facebook. I was as sucked in as everyone else.  I felt like I had (virtual) social obligations, messages to respond to, events to keep track of, etc.  I tried to limit my usage, but I was still spending about 30 minutes a day on the site. I sometimes found myself getting distracted and scrolling through my newsfeed or looking at vacation photos of people I didn’t care about (and that’s a weird enough issue to be discussed in another post, I think…). I stepped back for a moment, added this up, and realized that if I continued on this trajectory, I would spend more than a week out of the year doing something that brought no happiness or fulfillment to my life whatsoever.

So when the summer began, I asked my mom to change my password so I couldn’t log on. Each time I came back to answer messages, however, the site seemed more and more frivolous. I realized three things: first, that some of the most adventurous and interesting people I knew had little to no Facebook presence (I wonder why…perhaps they were more concerned with actually living it?). Second, Facebook had essentially eradicated any traditional notion of modesty. Bragging about any and all accomplishments had become fair game. And third, so much of what goes on on Facebook is incredibly insensitive to others – and this is where the ‘damaging’ part comes in.

I’m sure that most people who use Facebook recognize the artificiality behind it all. Anyone with a profile can see how easy it is to make one’s life look adventurous and exciting.  Unfortunately, while many of us recognize this, we forget that everyone else with a profile has the same kind of power.  This is why Facebook can inspire jealousy and insecurity so easily. We take what we see at face value, and thus spend an inordinate amount of time (either consciously or subconsciously) judging ourselves against others. A passive perusal of the newsfeed could inspire one to seriously doubt their own self-worth. They might ask themselves if what they are doing is enough: Is my career adequate? Do I have enough friends? Am I fun enough? Am I attractive enough?

My advice? Check yourself on two levels. The next time you hang out with those people or go to that party, ask yourself: would I still be doing this even if no one could see it? Am I doing this because I want to, or to impress others? And furthermore, the next time you comment about an amazing party, publish those photos from a girls’ weekend, or write that status update, please consider those who spent the weekend home alone, or who might not be finding life quite so ‘epic.’

And please, friends, remember.  Everything you post is being distributed to anywhere from three hundred to two thousand people. It’s not your ten closest friends.  It can be literally anyone you’ve ever met, ever.  Do they really need to see what you look like in a bikini?


“I don’t have time to work out…” and other excuses we tell ourselves

I don’t have the right equipment, the right shoes, the right shorts, the right sports bra.
I just showered, I don’t want to get sweaty.
I’m so out-of-shape I’ll make a fool out of myself.
The gym is too far, I don’t want to waste time driving.
I need to send emails.
I haven’t eaten yet. I just ate.
It’s too early. It’s too late.
It’s too hot. It’s too cold.
I’m tired.
I’ve had a long day.
I don’t look good in my work out clothes.
I only have a half an hour, it’s not enough time.
My iPod isn’t charged.
It’s a Saturday morning, the gym will be too crowded.

Do any of these sound familiar? Acknowledging that you set up these barriers for yourself is the first-step. Abolishing them is the next. The solution is not to wait for the perfect time, but to understand and deconstruct these mental blocks.

“I wish I could go for a run/to the gym/to yoga class, I just don’t have time.”  Especially at school, this is my go-to excuse.  I’ve found that in a society where “busyness” has become an indicator of drive and ambition, being too busy to squeeze in even the smallest activities (“I have no time to sleep,” “I can’t even sit down for a meal.”) is simultaneously a complaint and a bragging point. Though I may actually be busy, I find that sometimes I consciously or unconsciously add more items to my plate in order to feel less guilty about not being active.

When I tell myself I can’t work out because I have too much to do, I’m hiding under my work.  It reality, it comes down to a matter of prioritization. Can I sacrifice the 30 minutes I spend on Facebook over the course of the day? Can I work with more focus and efficiency to free up time in the evening?

I challenge you to listen to the excuses you tell yourself and question them.  Where are they really coming from? How can we reframe our thinking in order abolish mental roadblocks we set up for ourselves? Will there ever be a day when all conditions are perfect: when we are in-shape enough to not feel embarrassed or in adequate about running, when we will be well-fed, well-rested, have the perfect gear and the perfect weather? Most likely not.