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Edit Your Life : Your Wardrobe

I’m a former newspaper editor, and one of the things I learned was to edit brutally (no sarcastic comments about why I don’t do that with my blog posts). Cut out everything that’s not necessary, and you’ve got a more meaningful story.

I highly recommend editing your life.

Today’s edit: Edit your wardrobe.

Take a look at your closet — is it stuffed full of clothes you don’t wear? Do you have trouble picking out what to wear in the morning? Are there clothes you don’t fit, don’t like, or can’t wear because they are stained or torn? How about your clothes drawers? Overstuffed?

If so, your wardrobe may be in need of editing. Let’s be honest: most of us are in this category. And even though I’ve greatly simplified my clothing needs, every six months or so, I need to go through my closet to see if there’s stuff in here I no longer wear. I pull out a bunch of things and put them in a bag for donation. My closet is simpler, and my mind is more at ease.

To edit your wardrobe, here are some simple steps:

  • Pull out all the clothes from your closet. Put them on your bed. Now go through this pile, one item at a time, deciding what stays and what goes. Follow these rules:
    1. If you haven’t worn an item in months, put it in the donate pile. There’s a reason you don’t wear that item — you’re probably not going to wear it again for a long while, if ever.
    2. If you no longer fit an item, donate it. Yes, you plan to lose 10 pounds to fit into that outfit. Well, when you do, go to the thrift shop and get some better-fitting items. Until then, they’re taking up space in your closet.
    3. If an item is stained or torn beyond repair, donate it. If you can repair it, put it in a bag and take it to be sewn tomorrow (or do it yourself). If that bag sits in your house or car for more than a week, you’ll probably never do it, so donate it or toss it. For myself, I often keep stained or torn clothing, if I really love an item, but I only wear it around the house. I save the good clothes for company. 🙂
    4. If an item is out of style or doesn’t match anything else you own, consider donating it. OK, if you really love it and still wear it, go ahead and keep it. Butterfly bell-bottoms? You’re still cool.
    5. When in doubt, put it in a storage container, label it with today’s date, and put it out of sight for a few months. If you ever really want to wear it, it’s still there. But if you open it in a few months, and you never needed it, donate it.
    6. For seasonal clothes, such as winter or summer clothing, put it in a container and label it. When the season comes, break out that container. No use keeping it in your closet the whole year round. Where I live, there’s always tropical goodness year round, so this isn’t an issue.
  • If you still have a lot of clothes left, consider the following:
    1. Keep clothes that are of the same color scheme, and toss the rest. This way, everything matches, and you don’t have to worry about what goes with your chartreuse blouse. Neutral colors like tan and white are great, with some color tossed in. I avoid bright colors, especially those that bleed in the wash. I don’t like to worry about that.
    2. Keep clothes that are simple in design, and can be paired with anything. Jeans are a great example (not the kinds with bells and whistles, the simple kinds). You can put just about any shirt with jeans, and you’re good to go. Shoot for this kind of philosophy. Don’t have pants or a skirt that can only go with one or two other items. Be able to mix and match with ease and without some kind of complicated chart.
    3. Make comfort a priority. Looks are important, but comfort is more important. You want to be at ease in whatever you wear, so keep that in the forefront as you edit your clothing.
  • Hang the clothes back in the closet nicely, in some order. Pairing by color is nice, and has an especially nice effect if you use the same color hangers. If you have fewer clothes, they look much nicer in the closet.
  • Repeat this process with your clothes drawers. Throw out the torn underwear and stained socks. Once you weed out a lot of the stuff, fold them neatly and put them back in your drawers nicely. Again, fewer clothes look much nicer in your drawers.
  • Edit your wardrobe every 6 months or so. It’s best if you refrain from buying too many more unnecessary clothes, but I know some of you are shopaholics, and even the rest of us accumulate stuff over time. Make this a regular event, and you’ll keep your wardrobe nice and simple.

Personally, I simplified my wardrobe years ago. In fact, new employers know that I dress very simply, usually wearing jeans or slacks with a T-shirt or polo shirt and sandals or Docs. I’m a simple guy, and if my employer doesn’t like it, they don’t have to hire me. I feel my talents are more than worth any casualness. And when I need to dress up, I do have some button-down shirts and ties for emergencies, but I’m not comfortable in them on a daily basis.

I still need to edit my wardrobe, though, on a regular basis. I know when it’s time when it’s hard to find stuff, and when I look through my closet and find lots of stuff I rarely wear.

Simplify your wardrobe, and your life will be much simpler and stress-free. It’s wonderful. Give it a try!

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Stop Working Hard and Enjoy Yourself

There’s too much emphasis these days on productivity, on hyperefficiency, on squeezing the most production out of every last minute.

People have forgotten how to relax. How to be lazy. How to enjoy life.

Try this: read some of the best books, magazines and blogs on productivity, and see how many will tell you how to get the most out of the time you spend waiting, how to maximize your energy, how to make use of your commute time, how to make every meeting more effective, how to get more out of your workday, how to crank out more widgets.

People are working longer hours, constantly checking their inboxes, constantly focused on Getting More Done.

But to what end?

Are we producing more in order to make more money for corporations? Or to make more money for ourselves? Or just to hold on to our jobs — jobs we might not like anyway?

It’s possible we’re trying to get more done because we love doing it — and if that’s the case, that’s wonderful. But even then, working long hours and neglecting the rest of life isn’t always the best idea. Sometimes it’s good to Get Less Done, to relax, to breathe.

Let’s take a brief look at how to do that.

The Beauty of Getting Less Done
While working long hours and cranking out a lot of widgets is one way to go, another is to work on important things, to create amazing things, and then to relax.

I’m not saying you should surf the web all day, or take naps all afternoon … but why not? Why not enjoy a lovely nap? Why not take a long lunch and then a siesta? Why not enjoy a good book?

I get people who ask me all the time, “What should I do on those days when I can’t seem to be productive?”

My answer: “Enjoy it!”

Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but an obsession with productivity is unhealthy. When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax. Let go of the need to be hyperefficient. Stop feeling guilty about enjoying yourself.

But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever? Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax, and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier. And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation. Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love, when you get excited.

It’s how I work every day. I work on lots of projects, on things I really care about, with people I enjoy working with. (See my guide to becoming self-employed if you’d like to do the same.)

How to Relax
It’s funny that I’d even need a section on this topic — how to relax. It seems like it should be something we all know how to do. After all, aren’t we constantly searching for ways to be less lazy? And doesn’t it logically follow that we already know how to be lazy?

It’s possible you already have mastered the art of relaxing. And if so, congratulations. You are a Get Less Done master. All you need now, perhaps, is to let go of the guilt you might feel, and enjoy this relaxation.

But for those of you who have forgotten how to relax, you’re going to have a tougher time. Here’s a hint: don’t stress out about it. If you don’t know how to relax, it’s OK. Breathe. Take it slowly. One step at a time.

Some steps:

  • Take 5 minutes to go outside for a walk. Breathe the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to do things. More time means less rush.
  • After work, get outside, take in nature, run around if you can.
  • Play. Play like a child. Play with a child. Play when you work.
  • Give yourself a day off. Sleep. Watch TV. Eat bon bons.
  • At work, give yourself an hour off. Don’t try to be productive. Just have fun.
  • Work with someone who is exciting. Get excited about a project.
  • Take evenings off. Seriously, no working in the evenings.
  • Get a massage.
  • Breathe.

Step by step, learn to relax. Learn that productivity isn’t everything. Creating is great, but you don’t need to fill every second with work. When you do work, get excited, pour yourself into it, work on important, high-impact tasks … and then relax.

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The Guide to a Decluttered Home

One of my favorite habits that I’ve created since I changed my life 9 years ago is having a decluttered home.

I now realize that I always disliked the clutter, but I put off thinking about it because it was unpleasant.

The thought of having to deal with all that clutter was overwhelming, and I had too much to do, or I was too tired, so I procrastinated.

Clutter, it turns out, is procrastination.

But I learned to deal with that procrastination one small chunk at a time, and I cleared it out. That was truly amazing.

Amazing because I didn’t really believe I could do it until I did it. I didn’t believe in myself. And amazing because when it was done, there was a background noise that was removed from my life, a distraction, an irritation.

Decluttering my home has meant a more peaceful, minimal life. It’s meant I spend less time cleaning, maintaining my stuff, looking for things. Less money buying things, storing things. Less emotional attachment to things.

For anyone looking to begin decluttering, I’d like to offer a short guide on getting started. Know that this guide isn’t comprehensive, and it can take months to really get down to a decluttered home … but if you do it right, the process is fun and liberating and empowering, each step of the way.

  1. Start small. Clutter can be overwhelming, and so we put it off. The best thing I did was to just focus one one small space to start with. A kitchen counter (just part of it) is a good example. Or a dining table, or a shelf. Clear everything off that space, and only put back what you really need. Put it back neatly. Get rid of the rest — give it away, sell it on Craigslist, donate it, recycle it. The clearing and sorting will take 10 minutes, while you can give stuff away later when you have the time.
  2. Work in chunks. If you start small, you’ll feel good about it, but there’s still a whole home full of stuff to deal with. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (Not literally — I’m vegan.) So just like you did one small area to start with, keep doing that, just 10 minutes a day, maybe more if you feel really enthusiastic. If you have a free day on the weekend, spend an afternoon doing a huge chunk. Spend the whole weekend if you feel like it. Or just do one small piece at a time — there’s no need to rush, but keep the progress going.
  3. Follow a simple method. For each small chunk you do, clear out the area in question and put everything in one pile. Pick up the first thing off the pile (no putting it aside to decide later) and force yourself to make a decision. Ask yourself: do I love and use this? If not, get rid of it. If the answer is yes, find a place for it — I call it a “home”. If you really love and use something, it deserves a home that you designate and where you put it back each time you’re done with it. Then go to the next thing and make the same decision. Working quickly and making quick decisions, you can sort through a pile in about 10 minutes (depending on the size of the pile).
  4. Put stuff in your trunk. Once you’ve collected stuff to donate or give away, put them in boxes or grocery bags and put them in the trunk of your car (if you don’t have a car, somewhere near the door). Choose a time to deliver them. Enjoy getting them out of your life.
  5. Talk to anyone involved. If you have a significant other, kids, or other people living with you, they’ll be affected if you start decluttering the home. You should talk to them now, before you get started, so they’ll understand why you want to do this, and get them involved in the decision-making process. Ask them what they think of this. Send them this article to consider. Ask if they can support you wanting to declutter, at least your own stuff or some of the kitchen or living room, to see what it’s like. Don’t be pushy, don’t try to force, but have the conversation. Be OK if they resist. Try to change the things that you can control (your personal possessions, for example) and see if that example doesn’t inspire them to consider further change.
  6. Notice your resistance. There will be a lot of items that you either don’t want to get rid of (even if you don’t really use them), or you don’t feel like tackling. This resistance is important to watch — it’s your mind wanting to run from discomfort or rationalize things. You can give in to the resistance, but at least pay attention to it. See it happening. The truth is, we put a lot of emotional attachment into objects. A photo of a loved one, a gift from a family member, a memento from a wedding or travel, a treasured item from a dead grandfather. These items don’t actually contain the memories or love that we think are in them, and practicing letting go of the items while holding onto the love is a good practice. And practicing tackling clutter that you dread tackling is also an amazing practice.
  7. Enjoy the process. The danger is to start seeing decluttering as yet another chore on your to-do list. Once you start doing that, it becomes something you’ll put off. Instead, reframe it to a liberating practice of mindfulness. Smile as you do it. Focus on your breathe, on your body, on the motions of moving items around, on your feelings about the objects. This is a beautiful practice, and I recommend it.

These steps won’t get your home decluttered in a weekend. But you can enjoy the first step, and then the second, and before you know it you’ve taken 30 steps and your home is transformed. You’ll love this change as much as I have.

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80 Awesome Weight Loss Tips

Last week I asked you all to offer up your best weight-loss tips. And boy,did you deliver.

I’ve compiled some of your best tips into a list of ideas, below, for those looking to lose weight (and that’s probably most of us). It’s not a step-by-step guide, and there are contradictory tips — but there are some great ones here, so pick and choose those that will work best for you and give them a try.

Note: I couldn’t include all of them, or it would have taken me 3 days to do this. I just picked some of the best, and combined many of them. Some tips may be slightly redundant, but I like them, so I included them.

General weight loss tips

  • Remember to keep your goals in sight to motivate yourself.
  • 5 Word Diet Plan – and the only one that works: Eat Less and Move More!
  • Doing the Zen Habits 30-day challenge to make something a habit really helps make exercise a no-brainer. The first step is getting yourself to do it, after that, the gains are much easier to make.
  • To be successful you need to change your life. You need to take control of the bad habits you have turned into an unhealthy life. You need to be excited about it too. And you have to believe that you can do it. Dreams turn into reality very quickly when you work hard.
  • Don’t try to lose weight. The number one indicator of excessive weight gain in the future is attempting to lose weight in the past. Don’t diet, it won’t last. Instead get up and go get more exercise.
  • Ultimately weight loss is about the balance between calories taken in and calories burned. Take the weight you want to be and the activity level that you maintain and calculate the number of calories that you should eat to maintain that weight. Now you have to eat fewer calories than this number, on average, over time to lose weight and achieve your target. Keep a food diary with full daily calorie calculations. Write down everything.
  • Never, never, never eat between the 3 main meals. Then eat what you want when it is time to eat.
  • Avoid processed food, or at least food where you can’t pronounce the ingredients. Keep it as natural as possible.
  • Stop watching the scale every day. If you weigh yourself, do it just once a week — as soon as you wake up, after you use the bathroom.
  • No matter how much you want a change in your life, nothing will happen until you DO something. You can talk about starting an exercise regiment and eating healthier foods all you want, but nothing will change until you START DOING IT.
  • Change your schedule, if possible. If you exercise in the afternoon but overeat while while watching TV at night, try exercising at night. Go to work earlier, come home later, schedule your walks during times you know you’re vulnerable to snacking. Switch things up to help break bad habits.
  • For people who want to lose 100+ pounds, dealing with the underlying issues of self medicating depression or anxiety is going to be a lot more effective then anything else. Feeling bad about being fat and trying to lose weight, or putting yourself in exercise situations you don’t feel comfortable in are not going to really help until the underlying issues of using food to treat boredom or anxiety or depression. After treating this underlying problem, the good habits will come without nearly so much struggle.
  • Start small. Changing your lifestyle overnight is very bad for your body and your mind. You’ll get sick of eating oatmeal 3 times a day, or grapefruit. Your life should be enjoyable and healthy!
  • Tell people around you what you’re doing. This will keep you motivated to continue. Don’t ask for their support, but say “I’m on this new thing where I’m going to kick my butt at the gym/road/bike today and” whatever.
  • Be aware of self-deception. It can sneak up on you from any angle. Examples of food deceptions: Breaded/fried chicken breast does not constitute an optimally healthy protein source, compared to simple grilled chicken breast. Potatoes do not constitute a viable vegetable source (they are a carbohydrate source).
  • Derive your self worth from something other than a number on a scale and instead gift yourself a body that will function well to serve your noble life’s goals.
  • Never give up, even after you have failed a few times. When you fail, start over. Watch those TV programs like “The Biggest Loser” or “Celebrity Fit Club”, because they are great motivators.
  • Rewards! New clothes make awesome rewards for weight loss. Going out with friends (but not for anything food related) is a great reward.
  • Weigh yourself but also take your measurements. Sometimes your scale won’t budge but your waistline will.
  • Get enough sleep – that’s the first and most important step. Without sleep, it’s harder to plan your meals, to exercise, or to consciously eat healthy.
  • Tell others your goals. Not only will you then have someone else also expecting you to perform but you’ll gain a cheering section!
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Everything we do is based on habits. If you’ve got to both get into the habit of eating great AND exercising daily, you run a big risk of getting overwhelmed when you’re not seeing results or you slip a little.
  • Find motivation other than within yourself. Workout FOR somebody else that you care about (your kids, loved ones, friends etc.). When you don’t feel like working out, remember that you’re doing it for them.
  • Focus on health and NOT weight loss. It is far more important that you live a happy, healthy life than look good naked. You’ll thank yourself when you are 80 and still lead an active life.

Healthy eating tips

  • Water water water. It kick-starts your metabolism. Stop drinking soda.
  • Make one change at a time. Don’t cut everything out at once. For example, cut out fried foods. When you’re used to that, cut out soda, etc.
  • Lay off the rubbish food, apart from one day a week where you can eat what you like – it’ll help you stick to it and you won’t have the temptation to eat rubbish all the time.
  • Eat according to the Glycemic Index, sticking with low and medium index foods.
  • Be mindful of what you are eating. Keep a food journal or diary. Seeing it in writing always gives it weight and helps reveal patterns or triggers.
  • Stop the evening eating. You don’t want to eat and then go to sleep. All those calories just sit there unused while you sleep.
  • Eat mostly raw fruits, veggies and nuts.
  • Brush your teeth early in the evening rather than just before bed. It keeps you from snacking if you’re not really hungry.
  • Cut wheat-flour based products out of your diet. Wheat is surprisingly easy to replace when you start thinking about it – rice, oats (still some gluten there, but a lot less), more vegetables.
  • Portion control used with a 20 minute wait time — wait 20 minutes after eating the sensible portions, and then see if you still feel hungry. Nine times out of ten, you won’t. If you do, get a little more.
  • Cut out sugar.
  • No fast food. Period.
  • Commit to one diet — and stick to it for life. Start by making a list of low-calorie foods that you love, that you find satisfying; and when you’re hungry make sure you eat lots of those foods.
  • If you’re a parent, don’t absorb “invisible” calories by eating your kids’ food.
  • Snack between meals – starving yourself for 6 or 7 hours at a time between lunch and dinner means you will overeat at dinner.
  • Eat slow and you will only eat as much as you need to be full.
  • Whenever you eat, think about how much food you would waste by overeating. Your body doesn’t *need* all the food that’s on your plate, why waste it? You could eat the leftovers for lunch the next day and save yourself some money, or you could split it with your loved one and have company while you eat. You could give it to the homeless guy down the block who REALLY needs it. Any reason you find not to waste that food is a good one.
  • Lentils.
  • Everything in moderation. If you really want French fries and a hamburger, or ice cream, or a cookie… it’s OK to indulge a little occasionally. Key word is occasionally. Better to indulge a little, than to binge later.
  • Learn to cook, from scratch. That way, you control what you are eating.
  • Don’t buy into the idea of “diet” foods. It’s better to eat the original food that has been less processed and only eat less.
  • Observe your hunger patterns. Choose a bedtime that’s early enough to keep you from after-dinner snacking. Stick to that bed-time. If you must snack before bed, have a something small and healthful. Maybe a tiny portion of whole grain cereal with milk.
  • Eat lots of fiber, it’s surprisingly filling compared to that cupcake.
  • Eat as soon after you get up as possible. This gets your metabolism working at a higher rate sooner in the day.
  • Cut out alcohol or reduce your intake to one or two glasses a week.
  • If you are hungry between meals, try eating a small portion of food that is high in protein. It can be more effective to eat one piece of cheese or some yoghurt or nuts than to eat bread or crackers or other snack foods.
  • Go to bed early and get up early. If you stay up late, you will overeat, guaranteed. It doesn’t matter if you are a night person; change into a morning person. When you go to bed early, you don’t think about food all night.
  • Instead of counting calories, concentrate on reducing your fat intake. Fat that you eat converts more readily into body fat than does protein or carbohydrate.
  • Try to enjoy your food, eat it slowly and consciously.
  • Only diet on weekdays. Don’t binge on weekends, but save two days a week to eat the yummy things. Also, because many people really can’t break that chocolate addiction, calculate one treat every day into your calories.
  • Positive change is easier than negative change. Instead of thinking of foods that are “bad” and that you feel like you need to cut out, think about all the new recipes and foods you will get to try if you start experimenting with more vegetables, more beans, more spices, etc.
  • Don’t count calories after you each them, count before.
  • Create a routine for what you eat – for a month, do not think of food as something to be enjoyed, think of it as fuel.
  • Take one of the three meals a day, and make it healthier (veggies, fruits, whole grains, etc.). Combine this with drinking ONLY water when at work, and it’s quite the effective method to lose a few pounds.
  • Eat a varied diet. Only, half your usual portions.
  • Eat nothing that you have not bought yourself, cooked yourself, and cleaned up after. This way laziness works in your favor. If you don’t feel like going to the store, or if you have stuff but don’t feel like cooking it or cleaning up afterwards, you are less likely to eat.
  • If you’re a stress eater, try sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Lots of chewing, not many calories. Just don’t spit the seeds on the floor.
  • Reduce the intake of three white things – white flour (all purpose flour), salt and sugar. Get rid of white flour completely if possible.

Exercise tips

  • Go backpacking. Carrying a heavy pack and walking around a lot will help you shed a lot of pounds.
  • Exercise 3 times per week.
  • Exercise: any kind any time. Sure there are better times and better exercises for fat burning, but they all beat sitting on the couch.
  • Cardiovascular training in the morning before you eat breakfast. This forces your body to utilize stored body fat for energy rather than carbohydrates, since you are in a carb-depleted state after having not eaten for 8-10 hours.
  • Regular aerobic exercise helps, for a period of at least 40 minutes.
  • If you can’t run, start slow by walking for 9 minutes and jog for 1 minute. Do that a couple of times and then slowly exchange the minutes walking for minutes running.
  • Buy a pedometer and try to get 10,000 steps per day in. That’s about 5 miles +/- depending on your stride length.
  • Walk everywhere (carrying a baby while you walk also helps a lot).
  • Swim, swim, swim.
  • Find fun exercise. Join a softball team, commute to work on a bike, whatever. Your strategy should be time-sensitive – only make choices you can see yourself committing to for years, be it gym, dieting, whatever – temporary won’t work.
  • If you are resistant to exercising, consider volunteer labor. Walk dogs at the animal shelter. (Find a shelter at Petfiinder.com. Do beach or riverside clean-ups with a local environmental group. Volunteer on building and repair projects.)
  • Replace your least favorite TV show with mild calisthenics for 30 or so minutes.
  • Get an active dog! They will force you to get outside every day, and they make the best exercise companions.
  • Make friends (if you haven’t already) with very physically active people. If you have very active friends, you will be exercising without even noticing it because you will be having fun with friends.
  • Do squats while brushing the back sides of your teeth and calf rises while brushing the fronts. Then you get in at lease some exercise and also brush long enough.)
  • Take the stairs. Walk or bike ride that short distance instead of driving.
  • Use those multi-colored stars on the calendar for each day you’ve achieved your goal — exercise, diet, whatever it is. Gives you something, small as it may be, to look forward to.
  • Start walking outside to get fresh air, which translates into better mood. If rains, use treadmill. But walk fast, no sissy stuff.
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Your Family and Life Changes

It is a curious phenomena that when we try to change our habits — simplify our clutter, eat healthier, start exercising — the other people in our life don’t instantly want to be changed in the same way.

It’s as if they had their own minds!

Horrible as that might sound, it’s the reality we have to deal with if we have a family (or friends, roommates, coworkers, etc.). They often resist changes we make, or their possibly unhealthy habits stand in our way.

You’re trying to eat only whole foods, and yet your daughter eats goldfish crackers and pizza and Oreos. And she doesn’t seem to want to munch on asparagus instead!

So what’s a habit changer to do? Abandon all attempts at change? No. Force change on family members? Tempting, but not effective.

The answer is that there is no simple answer. I’ll share what has worked for me, but that won’t work for everyone. When you’re single and living alone, it’s easy to make whatever changes you want to make — but if you’re married, you have to make compromises. You live in the space that is common between the two of you, and that is negotiated space. When you add kids to your life, you now live in a space that is common between all of you, also a negotiated space.

What works? Let’s take a look at some strategies. Try one, try two, or try them all, and figure out what works in your negotiated space.

Getting Others On Board

Here’s a common scenario: you’ve read about some interesting challenge or change someone else has made, or perhaps read a magazine article or book on the topic, and have been giving it some thought, and finally arrived at the decision to make the change … and then you spring it on your significant other or entire family. They somehow aren’t as enthused as you’d like!

That’s because you have gone through an entire thinking process to arrive at the decision, and they are being asked to come in only at the end — after the decision has been made. That’s not fair to them, because they haven’t had time to go through the same thinking process, to consider the reasons, to find the motivation, to be included in the decision.

I’ve found a more effective method is to get all the people who will be affected in on the thinking process as early as possible. Don’t talk to them about it when you’re near the decision-making point … talk to them when you first hear or read about the idea. Talk about why it’s appealing to you. Get their input. Ask whether they’d consider that kind of change. Talk about your motivation. Include them every step of the way, until the decision is made, and even after.

What people don’t like is being forced to change, against their will. So never make people feel that way. Don’t ask them to change … ask them to help you change, once you’ve gotten to the decision. Say that their support is really important to you, and while they are welcome to join you (you’d love that!), they don’t have to change. Just help you make your change. Ask them to be your accountability buddy, someone to call on when you’re having trouble, someone to report problems and successes to.

Setting the Example

While not everyone will be instantly on board with your ideas for change, I’ve found the best method of persuasion is being a good model for change.

When I started exercising, most of my family wasn’t doing it. I tried to convince people, but I wasn’t as good at persuasion as I thought. When they saw me exercising, at first they thought I was a bit kooky. Then they saw the changes in me, and how much I enjoyed it, and I would share how great it was, and over time, it inspired some to think about it.

That’s what you can do — inspire people to consider something they wouldn’t normally consider, just by setting a good example. No one else will do yoga with you? That’s OK … keep doing it, and share your experiences. Do it in front of them as they watch TV. Try not to be annoying, though.

Making Changes on Your Own

If others won’t get on board with your changes, ask for a minimum amount of support: ask that they give you the space to make the change on your own, without their help. This isn’t a small thing sometimes — often people are threatened when someone in their life makes changes, or they don’t like the disruption of their routine of doing things with you (eating junk food together, for example). You doing something on your own is a big change for them.

Ask for the space to do it alone, and ask that they not criticize or otherwise make it hard on you. If they are resentful, this makes it more difficult, but you’ll have to make an effort to show that this is something that will make you happy, and you will do your best not to disrupt things for them. If that means you don’t spend mornings together because you are out running, then try to create other time together, like in the evenings or on weekends.

When you make changes on your own, without the support of others, it’s more difficult. You need to find other encouragement — I’ve joined running groups online, a smoking cessation group, and other similar groups. Facebook and other social networking tools can also be helpful in finding online support. Often there are groups in your area where you can meet people in person who are going through the same changes.

Family Challenges

One of my more successful strategies is creating challenges for my family. They aren’t required to do the challenges, of course, but sometimes people like the opportunity to rise to a challenge. And they like making changes with others.

My wife and I have created eating challenges to do with each other (we call them Lean Out Challenges, usually after we go on a trip and gorge ourselves on unhealthy food). With the kids, I’ve challenged them to do pushups, handstands, running, vegetarian experiments, daily drawing, and more.

Challenges are fun if you do them together. It can be fun to do it as a competition, or to offer rewards for people who complete the challenge.

Notes on Eating Habits

Eating changes can be especially difficult if your family isn’t doing it with you, because they can be eating junk food right in front of your face as you try to much on celery. Tough stuff.

Here are some notes from my experiences:

  • If you do the cooking, cook food for the family, and cook your meals separately. Eva & I often cook our healthy food in bulk and eat the same food for days, while the kids eat other things. For some reason they’re not big kale and quinoa fans. Kids.
  • Kids can change their taste buds, but slowly. They won’t instantly like big green salads, but you can introduce vegetables slowly, in soups and other dishes they might be used to. Dice carrots and kale can be added to chili and spaghetti sauce if you cut them small enough and add them when you’re cooking onions/garlic.
  • Kids will eat nearly anything if you add some baked fries to the dish.
  • If the kids are going to eat something especially tempting (pizza), I try to make myself scarce so I don’t have temptations. It’s too hard to avoid junk that I enjoy eating, if it’s right in front of me, so I’ll go for a run or go to my room to do some work — keep busy.
  • We try to find restaurants that has healthy food that the kids will like.
  • When I went vegetarian, Eva & the kids weren’t vegetarian. I did get them to try some dishes, which they generally liked, and then would just eat my food separately from them. If I made my food especially delicious, it would be tempting for them to at least try.
  • Kids will go to any restaurant if there’s dessert at the end.
  • Many people don’t like the idea of vegan food, even if they’ve never tried it. Making delicious vegan cupcakes will often win them over, at least to try it. I recommend Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Truly amazing.

Supporting Their Changes

If you want others to support your changes, you should also support theirs. When my kids or wife express a desire to make some change, I do my best to help them achieve that:

  • I share my experiences and what worked for me, and how I overcame some obstacles.
  • I share websites and books that help with that change, and often will buy books to help them.
  • I’ll do a project with them, or create a challenge we can do together.
  • I run and workout with my wife, and created a workout log to help her track her fitness.
  • I share vegetarian recipes with my wife (who is now vegan), and with my daughter, who decided to try vegetarianism

There are more possibilities, but these are a few examples. When they see you supporting them, they now have a model for how to act when you want to make changes in the future. It’s not an overnight change that you’ll see in your family, but slow gradual long-term changes. Play the long game when it comes to changing the culture of a family.

Learn by Teaching

The best way to make changes yourself is to help others. That means supporting them when they want to make changes, sharing the changes you’ve made and teaching them what you’ve learned, showing someone how to do something cool after you’ve learned how to do it.

You are teaching by making changes and sharing those changes with your family. They might not care about learning at first, but they will, over time. And when you teach, you learn more and more. As I am now, sharing with you.

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17 Truths To Get In Shape

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” – Aaron Douglas Trimble

While getting in shape has been a start-and-stop-and-start-again affair for me over the last couple years, over the long run, I’ve become fitter than ever.

I’ve dropped more than 30 pounds altogether (or about 2 stone 6, for the British-inclined among you), I run regularly, I’ve become more consistent with strength training, and I’ve dropped several sizes in clothes.

I’m not saying all that to brag. If you saw the details of how I got here, it’s nothing to be proud of — I ran a marathon at the end of 2006 and then did a short triathlon but then stopped exercising altogether for awhile. I became a vegetarian and was eating very healthily (is that a word?) … but then I slowly started eating more junk food and gaining weight.

Recently, I dropped sweets from my diet (cakes, pies, donuts, candy, CHOCOLATE!, sodas, etc.), and surprisingly I don’t really miss them. I’ve been exercising with my sister and my wife on alternate days and it’s been great. I still have more pounds to drop, but I can’t complain. I’m healthy.

The ups-and-downs of my fitness efforts have highlighted some important points for me. Key among those points: don’t quit. If you mess up, and stop for awhile, that doesn’t mean you should quit altogether. Just keep going. You’ll get there eventually.

And during this journey, which hasn’t stopped and probably won’t ever stop, and I’ve learned a lot over these last couple of years, about what works and what doesn’t.

What follows are some of the more important truths I’ve learned, in the trenches, that I’d like to share with you. Take from them what you will — everyone will find different things that work for them, but I think just about all of them are important to share.

“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” – Buddha

  1. Small steps. That you get fitter in stages, as you exercise more, is pretty obvious I think. You might start out just walking, but as you get fitter, you might add some slow jogging to your routine. And then eventually you’re running three miles, several stages later. However, this really applies to everything, including diet, and many people don’t realize that. You shouldn’t try to change your entire diet overnight — do it in stages. Small steps, one thing at a time, and you’ll get there. Just start eating more fruits at first, for example. Then cut out sodas. Then eat more veggies for dinner. Then change your white bread for whole wheat bread. Then cut out candy at work. And so on. The thing is, you get used to each thing after awhile, and so the changes don’t seem drastic. A year later, and you’re eating extremely healthily (that word again), and you can’t imagine going back to your old diet. Small steps — this is extremely key, to both diet and exercise.
  2. Find short-term rewards. Most people quit their diet or exercise program because they’re looking for immediate results. And they’re discouraged when they don’t get them. But you won’t get immediate results. One fitness trainer said something like, “After a month, you’ll start feeling some results. After two months, you’ll start noticing results. After three months, others will start noticing.” And that’s pretty true — it takes months before you start to see the results you want … but in the meantime, you have to look for other things to keep you going. Those shorter-term rewards could be simple things like the great feeling you get after a workout — that helps me stay motivated. Or you could give yourself a treat (something healthy, preferably) or buy a book or something like that.
  3. Track your progress. The scale is probably the most popular way to see your progress, but other ways include measuring your waist, or taking photos of yourself each month. You could also track your performance — for example, do a 5K every month to see if you’re getting faster, or log your miles to see them increase. However you do it, you should have some kind of objective way to see your progress over the weeks and months. Otherwise, you might not really notice the difference — but the numbers or pictures will.
  4. Enjoy yourself. Very very important. If you see your exercise as extremely difficult, or painful, you won’t be able to sustain it for long. You’ll quit. If you see your diet as very restrictive, or torture, you’ll go back to junk food in a short while. You must find exercise that you enjoy, and find healthy foods that taste good to you. Maybe not chocolate cake good, but good nonetheless. Experiment with new recipes until you find ones you absolutely love. (Try my soup and chili recipes for example.) Above all, enjoy the whole process. It’s what’s kept me doing it — I love my new life.
  5. Never ever give up. Maybe the most important truth on this list. If you give up, you won’t get to your goal. Very obvious, I know, but the problem is that people don’t put this into action. Messing up by falling back into junk food or stopping exercise — that happens. Life gets in the way. No one is perfect. Just forget about that stuff, and move on. Learn from your failures, adjust your plan to prevent the same thing from happening again, and start again. If you stop, that’s OK — just start again. Always start again. If you do that, there’s no way you won’t eventually get to your goal.
  6. Get a workout partner. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s been the key to my most recent exercise success. I began running with my sister, Katrina (who btw is an incredible inspiration — she’s come a very long way in the last year), and even though we’re at different levels, we really enjoy our runs. When we agree to meet at 5 a.m. for a run, I have to be there, or I disappoint her. And sure, once in awhile we cancel appointments, but most of the time we’re there, and we run, and that’s the important thing. These months of running with her have really gotten me in much better shape. Now I’m also running with my wife, so having two workout partners is taking me to another level. Get a workout partner. Best move I’ve ever made.
  7. Brush your teeth after dinner. This is such a simple thing, but it really helps. It makes you have that fresh, clean feeling in your mouth, and makes you not want to eat an after-dinner snack. For me, after-dinner snacks or desserts are what ruin my diet a lot of the time.
  8. Vary your workouts. This helps keep things fresh and fun. For runners, for example, don’t just do 3 miles every day at the same pace. Vary the distance, the route, the speed. Do intervals. And do stuff other than running — go hiking, go biking, play basketball, do strength training, swim, paddle. Mixing it up will get you in even better shape, challenging your body in new ways, and making it an enjoyable process.
  9. Focus. There are always a lot of things we want to accomplish, goals we want to focus on … but by spreading ourselves thin, we lose focus and energy. Focus on one thing at a time in order to really get it ingrained as a habit. For example, for one month, focus on adding healthier foods to your diet (and dropping some of the less healthy ones). After that month, it’ll be ingrained. The next month, add walking or jogging or something like that, and only focus on that. One goal at a time, one month at a time, and you’ll get healthy.
  10. Rest is important. People who really get into exercise often forget this. Without rest, exercise just keeps breaking down our muscles, and they don’t have time to recover and grow. The exercise puts stress on our bodies, and the rest allows them to adapt and improve. Without the rest, they can’t really improve. You should always follow a day of hard workouts with a day of rest. If you’ve been exercising a long time (and then you probably don’t need this article), you can do hard-easy days, or rotate different types of exercises so that parts of your body are getting rest on different days, but even then always have at least one day of complete rest, or you’ll get burned out.
  11. Shoot for a year or two, not a few weeks. There are no instant fitness fixes, no matter what that website or magazine promises. Don’t believe them. Getting fit and healthy takes time, and should be gradual. If you’ve got a long way to go, aim to be healthy after a year. Those with a very long way might shoot for two years. Those closer to the goal could try for 6 months. Main thing: gradual improvement.
  12. Focus on your diet first. I’m a huge proponent of exercise for health and other benefits, but if you’re looking to lose weight and/or fat, the biggest factor is diet. You can cut out more calories from what you eat than you can burn with exercise. Of course, both should be vital components of your fitness regiment, but start on diet first, then add exercise. Don’t think that because you are exercising you can eat whatever you want (unless you’re a marathoner or triathlete or something like that) — you won’t reach your fitness goals that way, most likely.
  13. Don’t compare yourself to magazine models. Seriously. I’m sure we’ve all done this, wishing we looked like that slim or cut or buff model on the cover of a magazine. It’s natural. However, it’s not healthy. First of all, genetics plays a key factor in how these models look — most of us don’t have body types like that. Second, these models don’t usually look like that — they go on special diets a couple weeks before a photo shoot, so they look perfect for that day. Third, most of these magazines do some pretty heavy photoshopping. And fourth, what’s important is getting a healthy body image, not trying to look like a perfect model. Focus on health, not appearance.
  14. Find the exercise that works for you. I love running, but not everybody is born to be a runner. Many people enjoy swimming or water aerobics. Many like lifting weights. Many like cycling, or tae bo, or Pilates. Others like sports like basketball or soccer or rugby. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as you’re moving and you enjoy what you’re doing. Also find the solution that works best: working at the gym, going on the road (running and cycling, for example), working out at home (which I do), etc. Choose the one that you’re most likely to stick to.
  15. Learn to be present. Going back to one of the key principles above, “enjoy yourself”, one of the best ways to do that is to learn to really be present when you exercise and eat. For example, when you run, try to keep your mind in the moment, and feel your body and your breathing, and experience your surroundings as your run past them. As you eat, really taste the food and feel the textures, instead of gobbling it down mindlessly. It makes the entire experience much more enjoyable.
  16. Don’t let your body adapt too much. Sometimes we hit plateaus, where we’re still doing the same exercise but not really improving. The reason is that you have to keep changing things, either taking your exercise to a slightly higher level (gradually), or giving it new angles or routines. Otherwise, your body adapts to doing the same exercise over and over, and it stops improving. Once you start hitting a plateau, take it to a new level by increasing intensity or length of time in some way.
  17. Get inspired. Another key concept for me. I like to read blogs or websites that show me how others have been successful. One Zen Habits reader, for example, recently gave me some inspiration with his blog, Fat Man Unleashed. He’s doing a great job, making amazing progress, and it’s inspirational. Fitness magazines, for me, began to seem useless, because they just rehash the same articles over and over. But then I realized that I like to read these magazines for the inspiration, not the information. Find something to inspire you and it’ll keep you going.

“I am pushing sixty. That is enough exercise for me.” – Mark Twain

On another note: You might be interested in a recent interview with me at the Dad Balance blog about fatherhood and work-life balance.

If you liked this article, please share it on del.icio.us or on Digg. I’d appreciate it. 🙂

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How to Be Happy Anytime

My friend Barron recently asked, “If you could be anywhere right now, doing anything you want, where would you be? And what would you be doing?”

And my answer was, “I’m always where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing.”

I’ve notice that in the past, like many people, I was always wishing I was doing something different, thinking about what I would do in the future, making plans for my life to come, reading (with jealousy) about cool things other people were doing.

It’s a fool’s game.

Many of us do this, but if you get into the mindset of thinking about what you *could* be doing, you’ll never be happy doing what you actually *are* doing. You’ll compare what you’re doing with what other people (on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps?) are doing. You’ll wish your life were better. You’ll never be satisfied, because there’s *always* something better to do.

Instead, I’ve adopted the mindset that whatever I’m doing right now is perfect. If I’m writing a post, that’s amazing. If I’m reading blog posts on the Internet, that’s interesting. If I’m doing nothing but hanging out with my family, that’s incredible. If I’m walking outside, enjoying the fresh air, that’s beautiful.

There’s nothing I’m ever doing that isn’t the most incredible thing on Earth. If I’m doing something sucky (I can’t remember doing that recently), maybe that’s an invaluable life lesson. If I’m with someone boring or obnoxious, it’s a lesson in patience, or empathy, or in learning to understand people better.

The Now Mindset, In Practice

Let’s say you’re washing the dishes. Wouldn’t you rather be having a delicious meal instead, or talking with your best friend? Sure, those things are great, but they’re only better if you believe they’re better, and more importantly, the comparison is totally unnecessary. Why should you compare what you’re doing now (washing dishes) with anything else? Wouldn’t almost anything lose out if you compare it to something you like more? Will you ever be happy with what you’re doing if you always compare it with something you like more?

Washing dishes can be as great as anything else, if you decide to see it that way. You’re in solitude, which is a beautiful thing. If you do it mindfully, washing dishes can be pleasant as you feel the suds and water in your hands, pay attention to the dish and its texture, notice your breathing and thoughts. It’s meditation, it’s quiet, it’s lovely.

You can say the same of anything. Driving to work? Enjoy the solitude, the chance to be alone with your thoughts, or to listen to music you love, to see the world around you. In a meeting with co-workers? Pay attention to how people talk and interact, learn about the human mind, see yourself in everyone around you, learn to love anyone no matter who they are, practice giving up expectations of who people should be or what this meeting should be like.

I’m always happy with what I’m doing, because I don’t compare it to anything else, and instead pay close attention to the activity itself. I’m always happy with whoever I’m with, because I learn to see the perfection in every person. I’m always happy with where I am, because there’s no place on Earth that’s not a miracle.

Life will suck if you are always wishing you’re doing something else. Life will rock if you realize you’re already doing the best thing ever.