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how to use your alone time more productively (and actually enjoy it)

07/05/13

pic by david broderick

pic by david broderick

written by adam dachis for lifehacker:

Few people enjoy being alone, or at least feel somewhat socially rejected if they do. Nevertheless, solitude can make you more self-sufficient, add to your confidence, and help you get to know yourself a lot better. If being alone scares you, bores you, or just isn’t your favorite thing, here’s how you can fix that and make your time more productive.

You, like many people, might get stuck on the idea that being alone is like having some sort of disease—even if you’re the kind of person that prefers being alone. You might skip movies in the theater if you have to attend in solitude. Or maybe you criticize yourself for eating lunch at your desks instead of with coworkers or friends. Perhaps you spend too much of our time out with others because you just don’t know what to do when you’re by yourself. With a little work, however, you can make your alone time much more productive. With the help of Roger S. Gil, a clinician specializing in marriage and family therapy, and Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU and author of Going Solo, we’ll look at the benefits of solitude and how you can use them to your advantage.

(more…)

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7 reasons why you’re not maxing out your potential

02/17/13 3 Comments

written by marc from marc & angel:

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.
Vince Lombardi

Feeling down about your forward progress lately?  Do you feel like you’re running in place?  Need some motivation and tough love to help you reinvigorate your success rate?  Well, here you go – seven reasons you’re not the great success story you could be:

1.  You do a lot of thinking without acting.

Too often we think without acting.  We do nothing with our ideas.  Everyone who has ever taken a long, hot shower has had many great ideas.  I’m sure you can relate.  But you will only make a difference in this world if you get out of the shower, dry off and do something with them.

The only way to conquer your dreams and doubts is with action.  Wondering about them will not get anything done.  Avoiding challenges will only make them grow bigger.  If you wait until all conditions are perfect, you will spend the rest of your life waiting.

Great achievements are made by starting from exactly where you are right now with exactly what you have right now.  Stop wondering and start doing.  Once you’ve made a little progress you’ll always know, without a doubt, that you can make even more progress if you try.  Read 1,000 Little Things.

2.  Your creative mind is completely unfocused.

Constraints nurture productive side of the creative mind.  At first it might seem as though complete freedom makes all creative ventures more attainable, but this isn’t the truth.  Complete freedom makes the possibilities endless, but keeps your efforts scattered and unfocused.

Often, self-imposed constraints, or boundaries, force you to think differently about challenges, leading to more practical ideas and innovations.  Instead of thinking ‘outside the box’ and looking in every possible direction, get inside one box – a specific problem that needs a resolution, a smaller space where big changes can be made, etc. – and focus your creative attention on making a difference.

These boundaries create the foundation from which to launch a productive, creative effort.  It’s like pushing off from the ground when riding a skateboard, or from the wall of the pool when you’re swimming laps – having something solid to push against allows you to move forward with greater ease and more power.  And over time, as you test these boundaries by pushing against them, you figure out which ones can be broken and expanded, and which ones need to remain fixed in place.

3.  You are focusing too much on fears and defeats.

Your problems are really your blessings if you use them to grow stronger.  Never quit just because you feel temporarily defeated.  You have not been beaten – this is not a competition.  Keep working to be the best you can be.  It doesn’t matter how slow you go so long as you don’t give up on yourself.

In the long run, it usually isn’t what you have or where you are or what you’ve been through that makes or breaks you; it’s how you think about it all and what you do next.  Focus your conscious mind on things you desire, not your fears and defeats.  Doing so brings dreams to life.  Read Awaken the Giant Within.

4.  Your expectations are crushing you.

Drop the needless expectations.  Appreciate what is.  It doesn’t matter if your glass is half empty or half full.  Just be thankful that you have a glass and that there’s something in it.  Choosing to be positive and having an appreciative attitude influences everything you do.  The magnitude of your happiness and success will be directly proportional to the magnitude of your thoughts and how you choose to think about things.

Nothing ever works out exactly the way you want it to.  Hope for the best, but expect less.  Appreciate reality, don’t fight it.  Don’t let what you expected to happen blind you from all the goodness happening around.  Even if it doesn’t work out at all, it’s still worth it if it made you feel something new, and if it taught you something new.

5.  You have become distracted from your core goals.

People might tell you it’s impossible, but it’s not.  Though the challenges may be great, you can make things happen.  The odds may not seem to be in your favor right now, but you can change the odds.  When something difficult you want to achieve connects deeply with your purpose, it becomes possible.  When you are driven and committed and persistent, you will get yourself there step by step.

So look within yourself and unearth the values and goals that you most earnestly feel a deep connection with.  In the end, it’s the things that are genuinely important to you that will power your greatest achievements. Read The 52-Week Life Passion Project.

6.  You are playing it too safe.

Pain is a pesky part of being human but it’s vitally important.  It strengthens the mind, heart and body.  You can’t grow strong, brave, or successful in this world if you’ve only had good things happen to you within the safe boundaries of your own little comfort bubble.  You need real life experiences, and nothing ever becomes real until you experience it firsthand.

No matter how long you train yourself to be strong, brave, or proficient at something, you never know if you are or not until something real happens to you.  So get real, experience life and let it teach you what you need to know to conquer your wildest dreams.

7.  You have been resisting forgiveness.

Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”  Nothing could be closer to the truth.  Your willingness to forgive yourself and others is the greatest sign of your emotional and spiritual maturity.  It’s a process of acceptance and understanding that allows you to let go of a situation that’s over so you can move on with your life.

The key is to be thankful for every experience – positive or negative.  It’s taking a step back and saying, “Thank you for the lesson.”

Take a moment and imagine if every person (including yourself) who owed you an apology apologized today, and imagine if you accepted these apologies.  What a weight lifted.  Now imagine if everyone, everywhere did this.  How many problems in the world would evaporate?

an approach to ending chronic procrastination

02/25/12 1 Comment

by duff mcduffee for beyondgrowth.net:

Chronic procrastinators are riddled with internal conflict. We may talk to ourselves or others about what we are not doing, like “I didn’t get anything done today.” “I can’t focus.” “I need to get this project done already.” We feel as if we are a slave to their brains, not in control of our behaviors and even our minds.

Yes, I’m saying “we” because I’m admitting that I have a problem. But I think I may also have recently stumbled upon an important part of the solution.

Two things that maintain chronicity in psychological or behavioral problems are a) lack of specificity and b) lack of taking responsibility or seeing what’s in your control. Self-deception has been found to require vague language, while an “external locus of control” frames the situation as something we can’t do anything about, therefore it’s not our fault and not our responsibility.

To begin to regain control, one can see past actions clearly using specific language, and then label them as choices. For instance a person could say to themselves, “I chose to browse Facebook for 3 hours this morning.” Simply by labeling an action as a choice to yourself, you can immediately regain an “internal locus of control.” (Note that this might not be a good idea to go around telling others about your choices, especially if they determine your employment status, but being honest with yourself is an important step in changing your behavior in a way they would approve of as well.)

YOU ARE ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING.

Every moment of every day you are being productive, even if you take 20 minutes to just sit on the couch and do “nothing,” that is a something perhaps called “sitting on the couch letting my mind wander.” You are always producing some result. The question isn’t whether you are doing something or not doing something, but whether you are doing what you want that is serving your needs and moving you closer to your outcomes.

The thing is, we all have multiple wants and needs. Nobody only wants to work or to play, to focus or to wander. At some times we have lots of energy and at other times we are tired. This is normal.

We can imagine these conflicting wants and needs as a board room with multiple people around a big conference table, all trying to make a decision together. How is this group going to make decisions? One way is by consensus, where everybody goes around and says what they want and what they think is best to do, and all parties keep hashing it out until they can all agree on a single course of action. This kind of negotiation leads to group cohesion but can take a long time in some groups, especially if each member is worried that their department’s needs won’t be met. Other groups bring it to a vote. And still other groups make decisions by having a single appointed party be the decision maker who gets all the information they think they need from the various members and then makes the decision. Any of these decision making styles can work well depending on the group and the context.

What chronic procrastinators do though is more like a boss who fails to call the meeting, and therefore doesn’t even make clear decisions, thus dodging responsibility for making any bad decisions and blaming it on others lower down. “Hey, I’m not in control here–those guys screwed it all up. It’s not my fault!” The chronic procrastinator similarly blames lower drives, or even his or her brain for being the one in charge, thus framing the situation as being a victim to forces outside of my control. Even by saying “I procrastinated” instead of “I watched YouTube videos featuring incredibly cute puppies for 90 minutes” is a way of being vague to avoid accepting the consequences of one’s actions.

I DECIDE WHAT I DO, EVEN WHEN I DON’T.

The first step therefore is to get sufficient available information and take responsibility for decisions, even the decision to allow something or someone else to make the decisions.

You don’t have to be 100% in control of everything to do this (you won’t ever be anyway), you don’t have to have 100% of the information, and you don’t have to only make decisions that all parts of you like in the moment. You just recognize what information and control you actually do have, acknowledge it, and recognize that “if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.

A chronic procrastinator can begin to transform into a decision-maker who is in control of their life by keeping an inventory of his or her time, saying, “I decided to do that. I fully accept the consequences of my decision.” Instead of saying, “I did nothing all day,” you might say, “I played video games for two and a half hours, then checked Facebook and Twitter for about 40 minutes, then read several blogs for 90 minutes. Then I did about 10 minutes of work on my report.”

Note this language is non-judgmental. Most procrastinators when they are specific about what they actually did are highly judgmental, saying things like “I wasted away 3 hours on Reddit like a freaking idiot. God, what’s wrong with me?!?” Keep your language objective and neutral, purely descriptive. You can also describe how you feel about your decisions. Again, keep it descriptive. For instance, “I decided to play Skyrim for 12 hours today. I feel physically exhausted, my eyes hurt, my body is stiff. I feel worried about my project that is due Monday, and notice that when I think about that, my heart rate becomes elevated.” This clear, specific, objective language provides you with the information to make more intelligent decisions. Thus talking to yourself in this way makes you smarter than someone who talks to themselves in vague language.

Other popular methods for tracking what you actually physically do are to keep a time log (write down what you did during each 15, 30, or 60 minute interval) or to use the Pomodoro Technique or other “time boxing” methods.

SEEING THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR DECISIONS

So once you get clear about what you actually are doing with your time and see your actions as decisions, what then? Most people when they consider doing something that bring short term gain for long term pain only think about the initial good feelings. They might say to themselves, “Man, I’d so much rather be checking Facebook right now,” or just make a mental picture (often so fast they don’t even notice) of how good it would feel to do so.

What they almost never do is make a mental movie that starts with doing the thing that creates the good feelings and plays out all the way to the unpleasant consequences before deciding. Instead they just play a captivating movie inside that motivates them to do the thing that feels good in the moment. Then they might compare that movie to what they are doing right now and choose the action that feels better. That’s what we call a poor decision-making strategy!

Later they look back with feelings of guilt and regret. But then since the action happened in the past, there’s nothing they can do about it now, yet they feel terrible and want to feel better or avoid feeling bad, so they may indulge again in the thing that feels good now. This is what we call a feedback loop, or a downward spiral.

Hey, could you use this information to motivate yourself differently and make better decisions? You betcha. It could even reverse the loop, creating an upward spiral. While you can’t do anything about the past, you can learn to make better decisions by making mental movies that play out until the logical consequences, thus getting a more accurate feeling about how you’ll feel in the future. This solves the whole problem about hyperbolic discounting and present bias by making the future real now. It’s also what people who don’t procrastinate do automatically.

Here’s how you do it:

Think about a behavior that feels good in the moment but has long-term consequences that you don’t want. Close your eyes and make a mental movie starting with the choice to do the short-term behavior and play a movie that goes out long enough to link that choice up with the natural consequence—that is, until you feel the pain now of what would happen if you made that decision (instead of feeling pain in the form of guilt and regret later when it’s too late to do anything about it). Then think about an alternative behavior that has more desired long-term consequences and make a second mental movie. Again play the movie out all the way until the natural consequences so you can feel what that would feel like if you made that decision. Compare the movies side by side and choose which one you want. You can make as many such movies as you want given however many decisions you want to consider.

That’s it in a nutshell. If you think you’re terrible at visualizing, you’re probably not (everyone dreams vividly every night whether they remember it consciously or not), and in any case it doesn’t really matter because just pretending to visualize usually works just as effectively. So just try “acting as if” you can see it, or even write out the consequences in sensory specific detail as if writing a novel, then read over the stories and decide which one you want.

For best results, practice in advance, when it’s easy. Don’t wait for the moment of temptation when it’s hard. Practice again and again and again until you realize this new decision making strategy is better and you choose it every time.

This is but one strategy that is useful for overcoming chronic procrastination. Although can’t say I’m totally reformed yet, I’ve made huge strides myself in making better decisions (and I was the WORST!), so I believe that you can do it too. I also provide personal change consulting for those who want professional support in making such changes, so feel free to get in touch with me if you’re interested.

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