Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Long term goals are hard

It's funny. I have lots of ideas about things that I'd like to get done, but only the short term projects are the ones that ever seem to get accomplished. It's all too easy to put off long term tasks. Really the only way I can see getting around that problem is to meticulously plan and schedule ahead of time. That's much easier said than done of course, but otherwise you just end up doing your short term tasks, and then killing time till bedtime.

When we rarely have free time, we seem to just waste away the precious moments that we get (although maybe that's the point!). But when we have lots of free time, we aren't motivated to get things done. Why put off today what you can put off tomorrow?

After reading some more of that post from Two Plus Two about happiness, I'm starting to think happiness is tied to feeling productive. Each of us defines this differently, but regardless, if you just sit around watching TV all day, it's going to be nearly impossible to be happy. For some people it's family, for others it's helping people, and still others it's career and business success.

Being useful, helpful, and productive makes us happy. Now we just need to each figure out what each of those terms means to ourselves.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Enough of what I think

Deep thoughts seem to develop more easily as a conversation rather than a monologue.

This thread has some great insight and comments regarding happiness.

Night and Day

Timing can make a big difference. The grocery store closest to my house is a nightmare when it's crowded. The first time you try to round a corner you become instantly stressed out. You bump into someone, then you step aside, then 3 more people come through, then someone behind you squeezes by. The aisles are narrow and cramped. The checkout lines spill into the only available walkway between aisles and the list goes on.

If you're there when it isn't crowded, you barely notice. But go at the wrong time, and it's insta-unhappiness. Come to think of it, "crowded" and "happiness" are never synonymous.

Get happy. Lose the crowds.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Keeping yourself unhappy

I have a friend who is the songwriter and front-man of a band aspiring to make it big. He once said to me: "People sometimes accuse me of staying unhappy so that I can write better songs". I didn't believe them. He did.

And it's true. I've mentioned this before, but it is easier to write passionately and meaningfully when you are unhappy. When you want change. When you've been obsessing over something that you can't let go of.

So when you're happy, it's easy to have thinker's block.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

From Zero to Happy

Have you ever noticed that sometimes people who have experienced a traumatic or emotional event will laugh and get silly much easier than they normally would? It's as though their emotion levels have been cranked up a few notches so both happiness and sadness come easier . You would think it would be the opposite...that happiness is much further away. But in reality, it's closer.

Just a little something I've noticed...

Maybe the happiness and sadness aren't the polar opposites we always assume they are?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Your last request

Just now, I was pondering the age old question: if today was the last day of your life, what would you do? Immediately I thought that I'd go around trying to say goodbye to as many people as possible - but that seemed like too obvious of an answer.

So, same question, but with the condition that you cannot visit with anyone you know. What then? As I pondered the most amazing things I could think to do in a day I realized how suddenly unspectacular they seemed. In the grand scheme of your life, this one cool thing, on this one day, isn't going to mean much.

Not unless you can spend it with someone important to you.

If Lois Griffin from the Family Guy taught me anything it was "it's not what you to that defines the quality of your life, it's who you do it with." Maybe all my memories are just as much about people as they are about places.

In the spirit of this post, I'll tell you the best thing I could think of. I'd climb to the top of the highest snowy peak I could find, and sit there, waiting out the inevitable, watching the clouds cast shadows over the surrounding mountains, lakes, and valleys.

But getting to bring someone along makes it sound so much better...

(Please use the comments to post what you would do on your last day if you weren't allowed to visit with anyone you know)

I love psych studies

From this post:
It seems beauty isn’t all in the eye of the beholder after all. Researchers have shown women rate a man as more attractive after they’ve seen another woman smiling at him. By contrast, being a jealous bunch, male observers rate a man as less attractive after they’ve seen a woman smiling at him.
This is pretty interesting to me. Primarily because I've always thought that women were more jealous than men. But perhaps that's because I'm not the jealous type? So maybe I'm just taking my own point of view and assuming that's the way it is for everyone.

Also, I would think that seeing a woman smiling would make a man happier, and therefore more likely to give a more positive rating?

I'll have to read up more on those findings, because really, I've got lots of examples coming to mind of both men and women being pretty damn jealous. What do you guys think?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Just when you thought you were unique

I did a vanity search for my own blog and discovered that I'm not alone:

It doesn't seem like I need to feel threatened by this site, but still, it was a bit of a downer. We all like to think we're special, and sometimes it's a bit of a defeat that expanding our field of vision means that we bump into someone just like us, only with a headstart in knowledge and experience.

Rather than an excuse for defeat, couldn't we use this as a source of motivation? There have been times where I've thought up a great idea, only to be put off later when I find out something similar exists. Why doesn't their success motivate me?

Why do we envy that which we want but do not have? If we want to be happier, shouldn't we seek out people that are happier and aspire to emulate them?

But not those people who are REALLY happy*. You know what I'm talking about...

*(...I think they're faking!...)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On how things get done

At work, you have a boss that tells you what to do. You will get in trouble if you don't do your work. You have deadlines. You will get in trouble if you don't meet them.

This is how things get done.

In our personal lives, most things do not have deadlines. You don't get fired if you never get around to doing something. If you tell yourself you are going to change, no one hears you and you aren't held accountable to anyone else.

It's hard to force accountability to oneself. For some reason it's a totally different ballgame. Why not make goals and deadlines for your personal life? Why do we have so much more drive in our professional lives? That's not what's most important to us, is it?

Monday, January 15, 2007

When there's nothing to say

This happened to me today. Twice.

What do you do when someone tells you something that you just can't respond to adequately? They might be giving you some bad news about their family, or telling you about an impossibly frustrating situation in their life.

In times like this, often the only thing you can do is listen. You don't even have to tell them "everything is going to be okay". They already know that. All they need is someone to listen, someone who will be there for them now, and in the future.

Isn't it interesting that when we are having problems in our lives, it seems like we need help...but all we really need is to talk, and for someone to listen? I've never been to a psychologist, but I imagine that really they are just excellent at listening and observing. They let you talk, and walk you through your thought process to help you figure out what is really at the root of things.

It's harder than you'd think to have an honest conversation with yourself. That's why we need friends, diaries....and psychologists.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On Isolation

It's easy to get caught in the cycle. You haven't talked to someone in a while, and you feel guilty about not talking to them. So you don't call. Time passes, and now it's been even longer. You worry about how catching up will be awkward. You won't know where to start.

I've been hearing a lot lately about how when you put yourself out there, good things happen. When you start connecting (or reconnecting), you will get connections back.

Where early computer technology disconnected people, all of the new internet technologies are focusing on connecting people. Human beings more efficient working together than we are going it alone. (I'd argue we're happier too!)

I know if seems like the new year has me making all kinds of "resolutions", but starting tomorrow, I'm putting aside 15 minutes each day to email a friend.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We dwell on unhappiness

Do people ever dwell on happiness? Aside from truly exceptional events (like getting married, getting a raise, etc), do we ever think about, or even realize why we are happy?

It seems to me that we think about it too much when we are unhappy. This makes it "contagious", spilling over into the next day, and the next. Instead of thinking about what we could to that would make us happy, we instead focus our energy on the thing(s) that made us unhappy.

If you've read the wonderful book The Tao of Pooh, you know that the Taoists teach simplicity. Don't overthink things. Don't worry about yesterday. All you have is the present.

Be simpleminded.

Observe people and events. Don't waste time thinking about who they are, or what they are, or the exact meaning of something. You can understand more about a person by listening and watching than you ever could by speaking.

Of course, it's much easier said than done. I'm trying to work on this myself, but I still get run down by busy thoughts from time to time. But I do know that underthinking something has yet to make me unhappy.

Don't think. Be.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Productivity = Happiness?

I just wrote this for my company's blog:

Let's face it, sometimes it's not easy to stay focused at work. There are so many distractions, especially if you're at a computer all day long like I am. Although it's tempting to spend the day goofing off and not getting much done, I find that at the end of a day like that, I am always unhappy. And I'm pretty sure I know why: not only do I feel guilty about being unproductive, but the work didn't go away! I've only made the next few days more hectic and stressful.

Last night I read an article called 18 Ways to Stay Focused at Work and have implemented a few of the suggestions so far today, including:
  • #1: Creating a task list for the day
  • #3: Time "Boxing" - alot yourself a specific amount of time for a task, then move on, even if you haven't finished it
  • #5: Don't check personal email first thing in the momentum instead!
  • #8: Use headphones without music
There are some other great tips in there that I'm going to work on incorporating into my daily routine as well.

Well, my time box gave me 20 minutes to write this post, and I have 1 left, so I'd better move on to the next box. It's a personal call that should only take 5 minutes (shhh....don't tell anyone), but I don't have to feel bad about it because I've already gotten so much done this morning!

Try some of these out yourself, and post your results below in the comments.
I hadn't realized it until I wrote it down. Being unproductive makes me unhappy. So, I suppose it would stand to reason that being productive will make me happy! (or at least happier)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I'm looking for ideas

Let's say you have a lot of things you want to get done. None of them are absolutely crucial, but you'd like to do them all. Where do you start? Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with things that I need or want to do, and while my mind jumps back and forth between them, all that ever happens is that I create new problems to solve.

Does anyone have any personal tips about how they manage many different ideas and tasks at once? At this rate, sometimes I think I'll just be that guy who came up with lots of cool ideas but never actually implemented any of them....

Getting it right

How many times does it take to get something right?

Well, I guess that's a trick question, because we can pretty much always improve.

Last night, I started my go karting league (the kind that makes you wear a helmet and goes 40 mph, not like the ones at your local mini-golf course). By the end of the night, each person had raced 100 laps on the same track.

Although it takes a mere 20 seconds to complete, there are so many subtle ways to shave off a few hundreds of a second here, maybe even a tenth of a second there. It's crazy to step back and realize how excited you can get over 2 hundredths of a second. I can't think of any other place in my life where 1/50th of a second is even noticed.

Still, throughout the night, lap times kept improving. 30 laps was not enough time, neither was 70, or 100. By the end of the season, I will probably have driven 400 laps around the same 20 second course. Will I have mastered it? Not even close.

Maybe that's just like life. I'll make up a term here, we'll call it "levels of mastery". When I've gone in on the weekends to just drive a race or two with random people, I usually win. I thought I was pretty good. Now, I'm with a whole new set of people, and everyone knows what they're doing. Now, I have to pay attention to things I never did before. The tiniest details make all the difference.

Maybe there's something you want to be better at in life, and once you get there, you realize that you're now better than say 90% of everyone else. But to start moving up through that next 10%, you need to be aware of, and master a whole set of new problems that you didn't even realize was there. If you happen to make it to the top 10% of that group, you're going to need to figure out what else there is if you want to get past that next group of people.

Getting to the top 1% is not easy. But, like everything, it's really just a series of small steps. And you have to really want it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

How do you make a goal stick?

Make it into a competition of course!

After reading the article about the group of people who didn't buy anything new for an entire year, and then the blog of a guy who tried to feed him self for a month on $30, I felt like I could learn something from these crazy people.

So my friend and I made a deal. No eating out for an entire month.

Oddly, this is something I've been trying to get out of the habit for a while now. Apparently it wasn't going to matter how many times I told myself. I just wasn't committed to.

Technically I'm not even 3 days into the competition, but I have already learned that, for me, accountability to other people far outweighs my accountability to myself. It this true for anyone else out there?

I already know that the month will be successful because I don't want to admit defeat to her in the "vast competitive landscape". I'm already trying to come up with a plan for next month.

Laugh at your problems

While driving on Friday, the bumper sticker on the car in front of me read:
Laugh at your problems
Everyone else does
The interesting part? It had special Handicapped license plates.

Maybe that's what we all need in our lives. When we've got a problem, we just need someone who has real problems to tell us, "So?". Kinda puts it in perspective doesn't it?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Staying in shape

I ran today for the first time in 7 weeks.

The thing is, I never used to run, but was "forced" to so that I would recover faster from an injury. After 6 weeks of running, it was going great, and actually, I was hating it less than I thought.

Tonight was a different story. The first lap was a piece of cake, but then it started hitting me on the second lap...I was losing my breath. Cramping set in on the third lap. It wasn't so long ago that it didn't even hurt like this on the twelfth lap. How had I fallen so fast so quickly?

Well this may seem like an obvious connection (you get out of shape when you aren't active), it occurred to me that we overlook this phenomenon outside of the wide world of sports.

If I regularly keep my room organized, it stays organized. If I need to use it for something, it's easy. And the cleanup is a snap, because most of the work is already done.

When you sit down and write everyday, it gets easier. The practice makes you better. Your writing muscles stay in shape.

When you keep in touch with friends, it's easier to stay in touch. Feeding it everyday makes for a much healthier relationship than one that gorges itself every few months.

The hardest part is getting your life into shape. After that, happiness is routine.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Year of the Can

I generally don't make resolutions. I never have. And maybe that's part of the problem. If you never set goals and expectations for yourself, how will you ever achieve them?

Maybe the whole concept of "New Year's Resolutions" frames it improperly. We all know it's a big joke. Everyone says they're going to lose weight. Everyone joins the gym. People say they're going to do this and that, but they don't. We just say these things. We don't actually commit to them.

So this year I am going to commit. I am going to stop listing reason why I haven't done things, and instead list of what I am doing to get there. Not just what I intend to do. What I am doing.

I've heard lots of people preach this lately, and it's truly simple. Set goals. Even outrageous goals. Then immediately start taking steps towards achieving them. Don't make excuses. Don't put up obstacles. Replace the passive thinking with action.

The gurus will say that we all choose our own happiness and level of success. It's hard to believe, isn't it? Why would anyone chose to be unhappy? People everywhere are doing it everyday. We choose to listen to that little voice in our head, the one who says we will fail. Hell, lots of us have real people telling us that all the time...."but what happens if..?"

Yeah....and....? Then I'll just fix the problem and keep going. It's horribly cliche, but you can't have success without failure. In fact, when you do succeed, you'll wonder "now, why was I so worried about failing?" The only time failure will hurt you is if it makes you stop trying all together.

Forget excuses. Lose "can't". This year, I'm going to focus on what I can do to get there.