Pushing your comfort zone

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I’ve spoken in the past about my challenge with getting into ruts. They can be warm and comforting or cold and limiting, but a rut is a rut.

For the last week, I’ve been on some incredibly-needed holidays, and I took the chance to push my comfort zone.

In the past week, I’ve specifically gone into restaurants and ordered dishes I haven’t tried before. I went on two adventures that I would recommend.

Firstly, I went to the David Bowie Exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Pictures weren’t permitted, but it was a top notch example of story telling. It was more than just Bowie’s movies and music, they covered the art, the costumes, the cultural context and the history. I really enjoyed the entire thing and I learned a lot.

Secondly, I pushed my fears out of the way and tried a Spin-barre class at Barreworks. They were having an event for Movember, and I’m a sucker for a good cause, so I jumped in. It highlighted my lack of exercise in the recent past, but it was a really exciting class that pushed my limits and challenged me. I really recommend a class there as I found it both challenging and enjoyable.

Have I fundamentally changed who I am in my week off? I doubt it. It was a fun, and I think it prodded me out of my rut (or at least just slightly out of it). It’s not an end, but it is a start.

I hope you’ve all had a fantastic week. The holiday season is coming, and in between crowds, shopping, and questionable weather, it’s going to be a stressful time. If you still have any vacation days left that you can take, I highly recommend taking them now while there’s still time. Enjoy a few quiet days. Go challenge yourself (physically, mentally, or both) and then come back to your world refreshed.

Good luck!

Write a Classified Ad for Yourself

Classified Ads

For some people, it’s very easy to keep a running tally of accomplishments in their head. For others, while self-confidence might not be a problem, it stands apart from self-value.

Personally, I know I’m great. Quantifying that in 20 words or less can be a bit more challenging. I hit this obstacle a couple of weeks ago. I needed an elevator pitch

I gave myself a challenge a week ago to come up with an elevator pitch as to why I’m awesome.

This led to a rather extensive inventory of what I’ve accomplished over the last couple of years. The results were, quite frankly, fascinating. It was somewhat similar to my happy thoughts list project. When I changed my focus, it was like opening the floodgates.

The really surprising thing is that this is coming from someone who generally has no trouble with self-confidence.

Here’s what I came up with:

In the last two years, I became the head of the marketing department at my employer. In the intervening years I have cut the expenses of the department by over 6 figures while hitting record sales figures in 4 out of 5 product lines. I’ve read dozens of industry books on content, sales and marketing as well as attending over a dozen seminars and conferences to keep my skills current.

It’s only three lines long, but it sure does sound awesome, doesn’t it? There’s a lot more to say, but as a quick “classified ad” version to define myself, it does an incredibly job of describing my value. To be honest, I feel a bit warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. I was always confident in myself and my abilities, but now I have the words to convince someone in just a few moments that they should think I’m incredible as well.

In life, we are faced with a number of occasions where we need to define our value and we have only a few moments (or a few words) to do so. I challenge you to write a similar classified ad for yourself. Take your time, it might not come out exactly how you like it in the first draft, but once you complete it it can be very impressive. If you feel comfortable, share it here. I’d love to see your classified ad!

Productivity: It’s amazing what you accomplish when you’re not looking

To-do list book.

It turns out, my last post announcing my 42nd Happiness Experiment was also my 500th post on the site, making this my celebratory 501st post.

Wow, how did I manage 500 posts? Sometimes I’ve struggled to write, other times the posts flow from my fingers as fast as I can type. It’s amazing how accomplishments sneak up and surprise you.

I’ve spent the weekend at a conference in downtown. I won’t bore you with the details as it was an industry conference, but it was an amazing way to spend time and I really learned a lot. I had the chance to put my head together with a lot of smart people, which always leads to some fascinating and educational conversations.

So, at a conference for 8 hours each day, I wouldn’t be surprised if this weekend was a write-off when it comes to productivity, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems that, like my 500th post, being productive this weekend snuck up on me.

I finished off my first weekend of exercise in the 100 push up challenge and the 200 sit up challenge. I’m not going to lie and say they were easy. I’ve been slacking on my muscle-building exercise work, and it unfortunately shows. These challenges are much needed. I haven’t fallen in love with them yet, but I have started to once again embrace a schedule of regular exercise.

I have also managed to do some work on the weekend, getting ahead on my tasks for the week. A bit earlier this evening, I even prepared food for the next few days and cleaned the kitchen.

Essentially, on a weekend where I thought I would get nothing done, I managed to achieve an amazing amount. I got some exercise, learned a number of new things, got some work done, prepared healthy food for the next couple days, cleaned my kitchen and even spent a bit of time relaxing with my wife and catching up on some of our favorite television shows.

I wonder if the fact that I had no expectations left me open to accomplishing more. There’s a fine line between setting goals and setting expectations. I still had a to-do list for my time at home, but rather than expecting a certain number of tasks to be done withing a set time, I decided to just do what I could in the time that was available to me.

It’s very zen as a concept. Think less, have fewer expectations, and just do more.

Now, the question comes, how can I work that realization into my life more?

I think I need to start viewing to-do lists as guidelines, rather than as must-do lists. This prevents me from getting hung up tasks and instead puts me in a position where I can more easily achieve “flow“. I’ve experimented with to-do lists before, and I found that while the did help me be more productive, they prevented me from having the chaotic moments of unexpected growth that can only really happen what you have time open on your schedule.

Perhaps I’ll try to balance that now, so that I can still work hard on goals, but I leave things open enough that fascinating surprises can happen. This will be an interesting theory to experiment with.

Happiness Experiment 42: Holding Each Other to an Exercise Pledge

I had to start with a nod to the great Douglas Adams on my 42nd experiment.

As you might have seen in my past experiments, there is a lot of discussion about exercise. It helps you sleep better, it helps you lose weight, and it’s a generally good thing.

I have no problem starting to exercise and doing it for a week. I do have challenges making exercise part of my regular habits. That I’m not good at. And I know, in the long run, this stumbling block will be an obstacle for me.

In the past, my best success has been with karate. I started karate as an adult, and followed it until I received my black belt, but then I quit not long after. I’ve looked at Karate, and I can break down why I stuck with it into a few points.

  1. Definite time frame: We had timelines for belt tests and what not, you just needed to practice hard and stick with it to get your black belt. They weren’t handing them out easily, but if you were willing to put in the time and the work, it was something you could achieve.
  2. Definite progress: You start as a white belt, and if you succeed, you make it to a black belt. It’s a definite line of progress, and progress can be very motivating. You can’t always track health, but you can easily see the colour of your belt.
  3. Mutual accountability: I started karate with friends, and I made more as I went through the program. If you didn’t show, questions were asked. This kept you showing up.

So, what could I do for an experiment to see if I could both get healthy AND simultaneously make a longer-term change to my health?

Well, it came up in a conversation with a friend: The 100 push up challenge and the 200 sit up challenge. These are both 6 week programs, so that’s a fair stretch of time compared to my usual experiments. The individual investment of time is quite low though – about 10 minutes, 3 times a week.

I’m also doing this challenge with friends. Specifically, my wife and a good friend have joined me (though I also welcome random blog people as well). We’ll be holding each other accountable, and celebrating the results together. 100 push ups and 200 sit ups also offer definite goals to aim for, making it easier to see progress as you move through the program.

My goal for this is simple completion of both programs, hopefully celebrating the goal with my wife and out friend as they achieve it as well. I believe that sticking with a longer-term program like this and achieving the (not inconsiderable) health goals at the end will have a definite positive impact on my health and happiness.

It’s okay not to be perfect

A little crooked, but we're still hanging on.

You might have noticed that my blogging frequency has slackened over the summer. I thought about feeling guilty about it, but then I decided it was okay not to feel guilty. I had a great summer. It wasn’t perfect, but I really hope you all enjoyed your summer as much as I did.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned while experimenting with this blog is that I don’t have to be perfect. Frankly, I make a lot of mistakes. It’s who I am. I continuously learn from my mistakes though, so I like to think I’m making progress on this journey of life. That said, I still do have a stubborn perfectionist streak that rears its head now and again.

While I’m not a fan of resting on my laurels, I believe that there are points when you need to remind yourself of all the things you accomplish in your life.

I may not yet be jogging, or biking the same amount of kilometers per week that I had hoped for 6 months ago, but I am still 20-30 pounds below my peak weight, and I’m succeeding in spending more time out and about with people who challenge me to learn more and grow.

No road runs straight, and it’s only when you hit hills and mountains that you can look back and see how far you’ve come. 41 happiness experiments in, I’m not perfect yet, and I never will be. I have learned a whole lot about who I am and the type of things that bring me happiness in life. This is influencing what I do with my spare time, how I’m planning on growing my career, who I spend time with, and what I plan for the future. When I take a step back and look at how far things have come, it is motivating to go further forward.

What’s in the next 41 experiments? Well, I was inspired by the Inukshuk. The idea of building something or volunteering with something. This has led me to doing more work with startups. It will be interesting to see how this goes. I might even take up a regular volunteer gig to see how that impacts feelings. I also plan on starting the 100 pushup challenge next week (there, I’ve said it, now I’m committed). The future holds more goals for the physical, mental and spiritual.

How do you fight perfectionism in your own life? Do you suffer from it as well on occasion?

Following up on old experiments: Meditation

Open up your mind

Way back in the early days of this blog, (my fourth experiment to be precise) I did a happiness experiment on meditation.

My results were mixed, and I largely attributed this to the fact that I was trying guided meditations when I was going to bed, so I was already tired. Basically, I fell asleep a lot.

Lately though, I’ve been attending restorative yoga classes. They move very slowly. You get into a supported pose and stay in it for 10-15 minutes. It is low impact, but you can still get a good stretch in. I love it because it provides the environment for meditation that I’ve always needed. I’m active enough that I don’t fall asleep, but I’m slow moving enough that I can really let my mind clear out.

I’m finding that it does a spectacular job of clearing out my brain and helping me to shift gears from work-mode into evening-mode. I let the thoughts drift pass me, and eventually all of my stressful thoughts resolve themselves and leave me at peace.

Active meditations aren’t unusual. Zen Buddhism has walking meditation exercises, yoga is all about mindfulness and awareness (key concepts of meditation) and there are many more examples.

Have you ever tried meditation? Do you find it easier to meditate while moving or while staying still?

A quick happy thoughts list for tonight

It’s a busy week, but I’m trying not to let that get in the way of my writing, so I wanted to pop on and write a quick happy thoughts list to focus on the things bringing me joy in my life.

1. Everyone who comments on this blog: It’s been a busy summer, and suffering from weather headaches has made it especially challenging, but knowing that people read this blog has got me coming back to writing after every break. Thank you all for your support!

2. Getting to bed at a reasonable time: It’s still not easy, but it’s starting to get easier with practice. Eventually, I might actually get a decent night’s sleep on a regular basis!

3. Options: Knowing you have choices in life, even if you decide against those alternate options, can really be freeing. It means that you live your life because you chose to live it that way. That’s true freedom, it’s both exciting and terrifying. I like it.

What’s putting a smile on your face today?

A Happy Thought for the Night

The view from the Isle of Skye

This is a picture my wife took while we were on our honeymoon in Scotland two years ago. That was a journey we went on together, and now with her going back to school full-time as an adult, we’re going on another journey together.

Travelling through life has its ups and downs, but the happy thought for tonight is that there’s often one heck of a view!

Be the Cheerleader for Everybody in your Life

If you haven’t checked out Kid President before, it’s a brilliant young kid and an ongoing show series from the SoulPancake YouTube channel. I can’t really recommend it highly enough.

It also makes the perfect way to introduce a new philosophy I’m working on: be the cheerleader.

We all spend a lot of time wrapped up in our own heads and in our own lives. It’s perfectly natural. However, I’ve noticed that it’s the people who take the time to cheer on others that really make a lot of the difference in this world.

Often, when you ask someone about a big influence in their lives, they mention someone who took the time to cheer them on and support them, even when they didn’t necessarily need to do so. Let’s face it, it feels really good to have someone in your corner cheering you on.

More and more, I’m trying to be that cheerleader for people I know. Rather than assuming that they know I think they’re awesome, I’m taking the time to mention it to them. Maybe I can connect them to a job opportunity, help them with a project, or something else entirely. I’m being careful not to overextend myself, but this is taking surprisingly little time.

Why should I do this? Yes, I want cheerleaders in my life too. I have some amazing people in my life who take that role for me, but I always welcome more. But I don’t do this out of pure self-interest. I don’t just want a world where I have more cheerleaders, I would like a world where everyone has more cheerleaders helping to motivate them on things that are important to them.

So, awesome readers, what can I cheer you on for? Or, alternatively, who do you cheerlead for?

Happiness Experiment 41: Sleep on your Guest Bed

This all started as a reaction to the dust level of cleaning our master closet.

We started cleaning, and our master bed quite quickly filled up with clothing that needed to be placed somewhere. Once we opened the pandora’s box that was our closet, we quickly realized it was more than a one-day job.

So, we went to the guest bedroom, and unintentionally started my 41st happiness experiment: sleeping on the guest bed.

We have a plush euro-top bed in our master bedroom. In the guest bedroom, we have a firm, utilitarian bed. While the plush bed seduced us with comfort when we bought it 4 years ago, the firm bed appears to be what we need now.

While I never feel quite so luxurious on the firmer bed, I woke up more easily each morning and seemed to have a better quality of sleep. My wife and I both had a similar result, we slept better on what we had considered to be our second-best bed. We continued sleeping on it for the entire week just to see if it was random chance or if we actually were sleeping better.

We’re in the process now of switching furniture between the two bedrooms.

This leads to my challenge for you. Often, buying a new mattress can be a bit pricey just to indulge a theory, but if you have two bedrooms, you likely have two beds. You can switch beds for a few days and see if it helps. Sometimes, we have the resources right at hand for experiments, and the solutions might be cheaper than you ever thought!

A little bit of elbow grease on our part is getting us a bed that lets us sleep better at night!

Have you ever slept on your guest bed?