Author Archives: alexharden

Inspiration and Motivation from Will Smith

Will Smith has become a global icon. Regardless of whether or not you like his movies, you undoubtedly recognize the actor. Casting him in a movie is as close to a guarantee of a blockbuster as possible in Hollywood.

But behind all the movies, TV shows, and albums, we haven’t seen how hard Will has worked to get to where he is today.

A few years ago, Will shared a glimpse of the mindset that has made him successful throughout the years in an interview with talk show host Tavis Smiley. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d highly recommend spending a few minutes to watch the video below.

Make sure you pay close attention to how he describes his work ethic via his treadmill metaphor as well as how his mindset changes when he decides he wants to do something. He doesn’t simply wish to do it, he believes it’s already done and that the world just hasn’t seen it yet.

10 Tips for an Effortlessly Clean and Tidy Home

Everyone loves a clean and tidy house. Well, I say everyone, but I’m sure there’s a sadist or two out there who enjoys their messy, dirty homes! For the rest of though, we love the idea of a clean home.

For the majority of us though, we go through a common cycle of spending hours cleaning on the weekend to achieve this tidy home only to see it descend into untidiness and chaos as we go through the week. We then get to the weekend and have several hours on Saturday or Sunday that we know will have to be dedicated to cleaning up again.

It doesn’t have to be this way. To avoid having to spend hours on the weekend cleaning up, I implemented the following 10 tips to keep an effortless clean home.

1. Make the bed first thing in the morning – There’s nothing more satisfying than going to bed at night with the sheets and blanket arranged neatly. When you roll out of bed in the morning, take two minutes to make the bed and have one less task to do when you get home from work.

2. Put your clothes away when you take them off – How tempting is it to just throw your clothes on the bed or on a dresser. Whenever you take clothes off, take a second to throw them in the hamper or hang them back up if they don’t need washing. This way you’ll avoid the end of week clothes monster lying on your floor!

3. Clean as you cook – I always try to have a sink filled with water and dish soap as I cook. As soon as I no longer need a dish that has been dirtied, I’ll throw them in the sink. If I have a minute while I’m waiting for a timer, I’ll wash that dish. That will reduce the number I’ll have to do after the meal.

4. Dishes get washed or put in the dishwasher – After a dish is used, it should under no circumstances be left on the counter or in the sink. This will allow you to keep valuable counter space free and have the dishes either tucked out of sight in the dishwasher or have them washed.

5. Do a 5 minute tidy – You would really be surprised at what you can accomplish in 5 minutes. Set a timer and start tidying as fast as you can. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Do this once a day and this alone will allow you to stay ahead in the fight against untidiness.

6. Process paper and mail – Don’t allow paper and mail to build up into stacks you can’t see over. When you open a piece of mail, decide what needs to be done with it immediately. Either file it or toss it. The same goes for papers. Gather up all random papers and go through them deciding whether or not you need to keep them.

7. Clean up before bed – Before you go to bed at night take a quick look around your house for anything that you can quickly clean or tidy up. Just a couple of tasks that take two minutes can make for a more peaceful morning.

8. Make it a family effort – Resentment can build up if you feel you are the only one pulling your weight with regards to cleaning. Preach these principles to the rest of the family so you can double, triple, or quadruple your efforts.

9. Have cleaning supplies readily available – When you’re cleaning in short spurts, you don’t want to make finding the cleaning supplies too difficult. Keep all the cleaning supplies in an easily accessible area.

10. Throw it out – Remember, the fewer items you own, the less you’ll have to clean. Try to avoid being even a mild hoarder at all costs. If you realize that you haven’t use something in ages and likely never will, throw it out! Don’t be sentimental over an inanimate object.

Of these 10 tips, I’ve got the biggest benefit out of the 5 minute tidy. I was actually shocked at how much I ended up getting done over the course of a week while implementing this 5 minute challenge.

Put some of these tips to use in your own home and enjoy some stress free cleanliness!

Empty Your Mind for Better Focus

I bet you have a lot of thoughts rattling around in your brain right now. You may think you’re focused on reading this article, but I’m sure at some point in the few minutes required to read this article your mind will start to slip and think about other things you should be doing.

This used to be me. All the freaking time!

I would be working on one task but my mind would be racing back and forth between the current subject and all the other tasks left to be done. It wasn’t fun but it was definitely exhausting. This over activity of the mind would often prevent me from getting into my mental sweet spot where I would be in the state of flow.

But then Getting Things Done came along and changed everything for me. I’m not the biggest advocate of the GTD system as a whole by any means (I’ll save that topic for another day), but I didn’t glean a few golden nuggets from the book that did change the way I operate.

The concept of the brain dump where you get everything out of your psyche turned out to be one of the best concepts I have ever used.

I was being distracted by my mind reminding me of all the tasks I needed to do so that I wouldn’t forget them. The idea of a brain dump to get all these other tasks fleshed out onto paper would free my mind of the reminding duties so that it would concentrate fully on the task at hand.

If you’re having trouble focusing, why don’t you give it a try? Here’s the 3-step solution that works for me every time I find myself focusing on other tasks.

1. Set a timer for 10 Minutes

This isn’t an all-day activity. You’re trying to get thoughts out of your head onto paper as quickly as possible so that you can get back to being productive. To force yourself to do that, I would recommend setting a timer for 10-minutes. Set a timer that’s going to go off. Don’t look at your clock and say I’m going to stop 10 minutes from now.

You’ll spend too much time looking at the clock.

Setting a timer will force you to focus on getting out the most important and reoccurring tasks that are distracting you.

2. Dump every task you can think of to paper

You may have 10 tasks on your mind or you may have 100. Regardless of how big or how small the task, note every single one of them. It’s hard to predict which task your mind will bug you with, so to be sure, make sure you don’t miss any.

Also make sure to include personal as well as professional tasks on the list. Your mind will remind you of all of these, so you may as well capture them all in the brain dump session.

3. Set a reminder for review

You’ve now got all your tasks down on a master list. Awesome! So your mind is free to now remind you that you need to go through that list and start doing your tasks. Damn it. So close!

To avoid this scenario of the constant reminder from your mind, set a reminder on your phone/digital calendar/whatever for later in the day to go through this list and determine courses of action or which tasks don’t really need to be done.

This will allow your mind to relax as it knows that you have a reminder set to come back to it later in the day.

A free mind is a productive mind

Now that your mind is free of the noise that’s generated by other tasks you can properly focus on the task at hand. It will also free up mental resources that will allow you to be more creative.

Remember that the key to making this work is capturing everything You may not realize it, but it’s truly amazing how the mind can focus even on the smallest of tasks. By ensuring everything’s out of your head, you can ensure that you’re working distraction free.

Now that you’ve finished this article, why don’t you give it a try before starting your next tasks? Go do it! Now!

7 Tips for Losing Weight

Yesterday I provided a recount of how I lost 30 lbs in 3 months starting on January 1st of this year. In that post I went through the steps I took to get there, but I had hoped that my post would serve as a motivator as opposed to a step-by-step guide to losing weight.

Today I’d like to list the biggest tips I can give you based on my experience in losing weight.

This information is hypothetical or based on what I’ve read, it’s information that I used myself to successfully lose weight and become a brand new me.

1. Set a Small Goal

Setting a small goal was the biggest key in achieving my weight loss. In the past I had been vague about wanting to lose weight. Or wanting to drop 30 lbs. I would begin working out and when I would only see a pound or so gone after a hard week of working out I’d want to throw in the towel.

The key this time around is that I broke my overall goal down into smaller, more realistic goals. Instead of resolving to lose 30 lbs from the start, I set a goal to lose 10 lbs in a month. I entered this goal into my goal setting application, Stickk.com, and it broke the goal down further into weekly goals of approximately 2 lbs.

Starting a week knowing I had a hard target of losing 2 lbs tended to be a lot more motivating then hoping for a 30 lb. loss over an indefinite amount of time.

2. Track Weight and Workouts

A further result of setting goals meant that I needed to track my weight. I began doing this on a daily basis as I wanted a consistent view of how far I needed to go to reach my weekly goal. I would weigh myself first thing in the morning every day to ensure that what I was tracking was consistent.

The result of weighing myself every day is that I was getting immediate feedback into whether or not I was working hard enough to meet my goals. If there were days where I would see a loss, or even gained weight, it would serve as an added incentive to push myself a little harder at the gym and avoid that piece of dessert that I really didn’t need.

I also began tracking my cardio activity. Aside from seeing how my cardio was progressing, it would serve as a game. If I knew I ran 2.8 miles in 30 minutes earlier in the week, I would try to push myself to be a little better the next time out and possibly hit 3.0 miles. Games like this kept me interested and provided a little extra motivation.

3. Push a Little Harder

I’ve always felt guilty about not giving my all at the gym. I felt like I would be leaving a little (and sometimes a lot) left in the tank at the end of my workout.

Over the past three months I adopted an attitude that if I’m going to drag my butt to the gym that I’m going to make sure I work hard when I get there. It felt uncomfortable and I was certainly sore in the days that followed, but the results were undeniable.

Too many of us have a lower tolerance for discomfort that we don’t make any real changes in our lives or our bodies. Try to push through this discomfort and push yourself just a little harder. You will notice the difference.

4. Focus on Your Food

One thing I didn’t do while I was losing weight was track every piece of food I ate. I’ve tried this in the past and typically I would be okay for a couple of days, but would eventually lose track for one day and everything would go off the rails.

This time around, I just focused on eating healthier in general while incorporating more protein in my diet to make myself feel fuller. The basic rule that I would follow was that all my meals needed to be prepared at home and needed to consist of some protein with some carbs and vegetables.

I don’t advocate the low carb diet in general as low carbs make me feel lethargic and moody. But I didn’t ensure my meals were smaller and that I ate at 8am, 10am, 12 pm, 2:30pm 5:30pm and then a snack near 9pm. It was rare that I felt hungry following this eating plan.

I also focused on eliminating a bad habit of eating late at night. Aside from ingesting needless calories, this also tended to interfere with having a solid night’s sleep. The added motivation of knowing I had to weigh in the next morning did a great job at keeping me out of the cupboards!

5. Build in Added Motivation

After losing 20 lbs., I’ll admit that I had a drop in my motivation. I felt like I had worked so hard that I could almost take a break after accomplishing my monthly goal for January and February. But I wasn’t at my ultimate goal.

To give myself an extra boost, I decided to book a trip to a warm weather location as an added motivator.

With this vacation looming and knowing that I’d want to look my best while on a beach in my swim trunks, I was able to quickly ratchet back up the motivation I needed to start working on achieving my goal for March.

If you can’t build in an added motivator like booking a vacation, try to focus on an event you have coming up that you want to look your best for, whether it’s a wedding, a formal work function, etc.

6. Just Start

You know when the best time is to start getting healthier? Right now. All too often we get caught up in trying to figure out a “best time” to start getting in shape or we’re going to get started on this Monday. When it comes to your health, the best time to get started is right away.

In my case, I didn’t start a New Year’s resolution or anything like that. I woke up on January 5th and thought to myself that I didn’t want to feel fat any more. So the first thing I did was eat a healthier breakfast. I also packed a workout bag and resolved that I was going to go to the gym over lunch.

I didn’t have any major plan in place, but I knew enough that eating healthier throughout the day and getting active would be a good place to start. I knew that I could adjust course and research a workout program later in the day, but step one was to just start and act on the motivation that was already present.

7. Commit with a Friend

When I started getting back into going to the gym I would go with my girlfriend. We started a workout program together and we completed the workouts together as well. The benefit of this is that we had each other to motivate us on days where one of us really wasn’t up for it. We’d remind the other that it was only going to be 45 minutes out of our day and we’d have it done.

It was amazing how much this got me to the gym on days where I would have otherwise sat on my butt on the couch and continued watching TV.

If you have a partner, try getting active with them and getting healthier together. If you don’t have a significant other, I’m sure you have a friend that would like to get in a bit better shape. Seek them out and set a goal together so you can be accountable to each other.

Losing weight is a difficult challenge. One of the key things to remember is that you have to be patient with it. You didn’t put on the extra weight in a week or even a month, and as such you won’t be able to take it off in a week or a month either.

Make sure you focus on seeing small but incremental results. These will build up week after week and before long you will start to notice a difference. Soon after that, other people will start noticing as well.

So don’t wait for the perfect time to start getting healthier, start right now!

Take part in (or start) the conversation below by letting me know your thoughts on my tips. If you have any others to add, feel free to post them in there as well for other people.

How I Lost 30 lbs. in 3 Months

I have always struggled with my weight. I was always active when I was growing up and I played nearly every sport available in my area. I was good at them too. But I also loved to eat. I’m pretty confident that if it weren’t for the number of sports I played I would have been much more obese in my childhood years.

My parents weren’t to blame. They tried to ensure I ate healthy and would keep a close eye on what I ate. But I became a picky eater and came to start eating only high carb foods such as bread, cereal, breaded chicken, etc. Oh, and lets not forget that I absolutely loved ice cream, cookies, and chocolate in general.

When I got to university, I was about 190 lbs which was chubby but not exactly fat. But that’s when the “Freshman 15” kicked in. With the amount of physical activity in my life decreasing and the amount of booze and fast food increasing, I quickly ballooned to about 210 lbs after my first year. Then 220 in my second year. I think I finally topped out at 230 lbs somewhere near graduation.

A breakup shortly after provided me with a spark of motivation and I got myself down to about 215 lbs where I resided for the next 8 or 9 years, give or take 5 lbs here and there.

But towards the end of 2012 I felt like making a change. I can’t credit any particular spark for getting me started, but the results to date have been nothing short of spectacular, to me anyway. Here’s my story of how I did it, from a starting weight of 220 lbs.

The Start

I had been in gym avoidance mode for some time for various reasons, one of which was embarrassment at how terribly out of shape I was. But I decided that I was going to start out slow and build up from there. I had been going sporadically for the month of December, but as holidays rolled around I soon lost my dedication.

But starting in the New Year I resolved to myself that I was not going to be another cliche of a person who vows to lose weight and eventually gives up 2 weeks in. As an additional motivator, I had read about a site called Stickk.com which allows you to set a goal and gives you the option to donate to a charity you hate if you don’t reach your goal.

It sounds a little negative (especially for a personal productivity site!), but there was an organization to which I felt strongly opposed listed. So I decided to set a goal to lose 10 lbs in a month. I wagered $40. The check-ins would take place on a weekly basis and if I didn’t meet the target $10 would be donated to this “anti-charity”.

I can’t say for sure if it was the thought of losing $10 or having the $10 donated to this “anti-charity”, but I met every one of my weekly targets for the first month which resulted in a 10 lb weight loss.

In this first month, I focused on lifting weights 4 to 5 times a week following a program I had found on BodyBuilding.com (I’d recommended Jim Stoppani). I would also incorporate 3 or 4 cardio sessions per week as well.

The Biggest Motivator

One of the biggest benefits of using Stickk.com was that it forced me to track my progress. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Every morning when I would get up, I would weigh myself. The impact of this little task was two-fold:

1) It allowed me to track my progress to see if I was working hard enough. If I didn’t see pounds dropping and I was getting closer to my check in day, it would serve as motivation to work harder at the gym to reach my goals.

2) It served as a motivator to see pounds coming off.

This weigh in served as a daily motivator to take my workouts seriously. Another side benefit of the morning weigh in is that it made me think twice about a late night food binge which had been a common occurrence in my life for many years.

In fact, in many previous attempts to lose weight this is where my diet would come off the tracks. I frequently would eat perfectly throughout the day, ensure I finished my workout, and then would allow it to all come undone with an 11pm binge.

So the thought of having to weigh-in in the morning served as a deterrent many times in avoiding the high carbs that I craved late-night.

The Running Habit

After my first 10 pound loss, I was happy with my results but now that I had a taste of getting in shape, I wanted to keep going. The workout program that I was doing had concluded (it was a 6 week program) and I was looking for a different challenge.

That’s when I decided to undertake the challenge of running.

There is a yearly 10-mile race where I live that I’ve always wanted to run, but I was no where near in shape enough to run 5 miles let alone 10. So I decided I would start small.

I set a weekly goal to run 10 miles in my first couple of weeks. It didn’t matter if I ran those 10 miles in 10 different sessions, two 5 miles sessions, three sessions of 3.33 miles. Whatever, I just had to run 10 miles.

I managed to accomplish this by running 4 sessions of 2×2 miles and 2×3 miles. These sessions were often hard, but in addition to tracking the number of miles I would run, I also tracked the time it would take.

In the weeks that would follow, I would focus my sessions on running three miles. What I began to notice is that I was beginning to push myself to beat my 3 mile time session after session.

Eventually my runs were getting closer to 3.5 miles per 30 minutes which was quite an accomplishment from where I started.

The results in my second month were again similar to my first month. I lost 9 pounds and felt much better physically. Every day tasks like walking up the stairs or taking the dog for a walk felt so much easier. With 19 pounds gone from my body, I guess I can understand why!

Added Motivation

With two months of hard work under my belt and a more slim body to show for it, the month of March provided an extra boost of motivation. I had booked a vacation to a warm weather destination. I would be leaving in May for it. A warm weather destination naturally means swimwear. If I was going to be in swim trunks for a couple of weeks, I was going to make sure that I looked good in them!

So this added motivation and a stronger base built up from a month of running allowed me to increase the number of miles I was logging.

Aside from the 3-4 miles I was running 3 times per week, I was also building in a longer 7-8 mile run on Mondays.

As I had yet another goal set on Stickk.com for another 10 pound weight loss for the month of March, I was shocked to see how much weight I was losing week over week. With a few days to spare in the month I had reached my goal of 10 pounds lost and eventually ended up losing 11 pounds.

Diet

Although I’m leaving my thoughts on my diet towards the end, the importance of my diet shouldn’t be understated. I ate very healthy over the course of these past three months.

I’ll share some specifics of the type of diet I followed in a future post about my most important tips I’ve taken from this experience, but it should be noted that I didn’t starve myself. I didn’t follow a fad diet. And there was rarely a time when I felt very hungry.

I did ensure that I was eating several times a day. I was eating smaller portions while making sure I ate enough protein to make myself feel full. There were also some cheat days built in, as I am only human after all and there are always occasions that call for celebrations.

But the biggest thing I made sure to do was to limit the amount of take-out/fast-food/eating out that I consumed. The vast majority of my meals were cooked at home and I give much of the credit for what I’ve accomplished to this fact.

Final Thoughts

I’ll be the first to admit that the last three months have been difficult at times. I’ve had to work hard for what I’ve accomplished. But if you have been struggling with your weight and have wanted to get in shape, let me be the first to tell you that it feels amazing to see the type of results I’ve accomplished.

People will notice. Your clothes will feel looser and in some cases you’ll have to throw stuff out because it no longer fits. But most importantly, you’ll feel better about yourself and have a healthier you to show for it.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing the most important tips I’ve taken from my weight loss experience, but if you have any questions or comments about your own experience, please let me know in the comments!

Doing the Essential

Yesterday I posted an article about identifying the essential tasks in your life on a day to day basis to ensure your focus lies on the important tasks in your life that when completed will provide real value to your life.

While identifying these tasks is a great first step, it should not be forgotten that they still need to get done. After all, it defeats the purpose if you identify the same essential task every day because you don’t actually do that task!

So how do you ensure the essential tasks get done?

Do them in the morning

I always try to do the tasks I’ve identified as essential as my first tasks of the morning. The main reason I do this is because I find it sets up my day. If I’ve completed the critical work early in the day I get into a productive mode where I feel like I can do any task that comes my way. It also allows me to stop worrying about what I should be doing and allows me to finish smaller tasks with a guilt free conscience.

Another important reason to do these tasks in the morning is because generally you have more energy at the start of the day rather than after lunch. As the day goes on, more and more items will be thrown onto your to-do list and the likelihood of you doing the essential tasks decreases by the minute.

Work distraction free

You should always try to work distraction free, at all times if possible. This is pretty unrealistic, but if you can schedule a small window of time to work distraction free you increase the chances of you making progress on your essential tasks.

To work distraction free, make sure you close your email, put your phone on silent so you don’t get notifications, close any IM applications, shut down your social media outlets and focus on your task. You may feel some initial resistance and an urge to open them back up, but let those feeling pass. After a minute or two you’ll start to fall into a state of flow where you’ll make some real progress.

Set a timer

This is definitely one of my favorite ways to ensure I get my essential tasks done. When I start work in the morning, I’ll look at my list of essential tasks and pick one out that I’m going to get started on. But instead of just slugging away at it, I’ll set a countdown timer for as short amount of time as I think it’s possible to get the task done. I promise myself that the amount set on the timer is the total amount of time I plan on spending on this task today.

What this does is make me focus on doing the essential pieces of this task and worry less about smaller details that will make no difference to the overall outcome. When possible, I try to make these firm deadlines so that I don’t think in the back of my mind that “I can always go over the time limit.” Treat the timer as the drop dead time for you to finish this task.

There will be times where you will have underestimated the time necessary and you need to continue on. In cases like these, make sure you reset your timer and treat this like an absolute deadline.

The key point is to not let a task go on for an indefinite amount of time, otherwise it’ll swell in complexity and time required to actually finish it.

I can promise you from personal experience that if you start focusing on identifying and doing your essential tasks your going to see amazing results in your life. You’ll start to feel your life getting under control and you’ll start making progress in areas of your life that may have been stagnant.

So starting tonight, make a promise to yourself that you’re going to identify 1-2 essential tasks you need to complete and make sure you follow up tomorrow to get these done. Repeat this process day after day and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

***

If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in my free eBook Boost Your Productivity Instantly.

Identifying the Essential

This article is part of a 2-part series. Part 2 of the series can be found here: Doing the Essential

***

I’m a big advocate of identifying the essential tasks in my life to ensure that I’m making progress on the important tasks and not just checking off non-important tasks to make myself feel like I’m busy.

This process requires a bit of extra work as you need to determine what tasks are important and which aren’t. Typically this comes easy for me, but occasionally I struggle.

In these instances where I struggle, I think back to a great exercise I learned from Tim Ferriss’ book “The Four Hour Workweek.” Say what you will about the book and it’s premise, but it’s chapter of elimination was quite eye opening for me.

The chapter on elimination provided a question and action section whereby Tim asks the reader to imagine a doctor has given you a strict warning that to preserve your health you were to only work two hours per day. The task was then to identify what you would do in those two hours to make the most of your day. The tasks that you identified should be the tasks that you focus on day to day.

After reading this, I did try to put this into practice when I would come into work each morning. While this worked great for a few days, what I found was that I would eventually start to slip back into opening my email before doing this thinking in the morning. This lead me to start more days firefighting items that came into my email than focusing on the big tasks that I had previously identified.

Eventually I changed my approach and started spending a few minutes before I went to bed each night thinking about what I wanted to accomplish the next day. The results were eye opening.

When I would wake up in the morning, I already had a clear sense of how I was going to spend my day. My brain would be actively preparing to tackle the key tasks I had identified the night before. Sure, I would still have to open my email and respond to urgent requests, but I no longer started any day without having a clear picture in my mind of what needed to be done.

Develop a nightly routine

Do make this process work for you, what I would suggest is to start making it a nightly ritual to spend 10 minutes of time by yourself to think about and list what you want to accomplish. Try to do this thinking in a quiet place so you’re not distracted by kids/TVs/spouses/etc.

Think about the ongoing projects that you have that you want to get moving forward. Think about what tasks you could do to get the ball rolling on these projects.

The important tasks should eventually bubble to the surface. Once you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, make sure you write them down so they’re made concrete.

Your subconscious will start working on these immediately, looking for solutions to help you get these tasks done.

When you wake up in the morning, you’ll be primed with an action list in hand as you get ready to take on the day.

What about the rest?

Obviously you will also have some day to day tasks that you will need to complete as well. I’m not suggesting that you ignore those tasks and not do them at all.

What I’m trying to get you to avoid is having your day revolve around accomplishing these more trivial tasks while putting off your more essential tasks.

For example, you may have some items that need to be mailed or you need to pick up some groceries. These tasks still need to get done, but don’t view your day as a success based on whether or not you accomplish these tasks. They’re not going to move your life/career/relationships/business forward.

Focus your day around your essential tasks and at the day be honest with yourself on whether or not you can call your day successful. If you can’t say it was successful, well there’s still some time left in the day to complete them.

If you end the day looking back on more successes than failures, then you’re going to see some giant leaps forward in your life.

***

If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in my free eBook Boost Your Productivity Instantly.

Dealing with discomfort

Starting an exercise plan isn’t easy.  Quitting a bad habit like smoking or drinking is mentally draining.  Trying to start a business is demanding on both your time and energy.

Any time you try to make a real change there’s an element of discomfort involved.

People often look for tips, tricks and shortcuts to ease this discomfort, but I believe we should be taking the opposite approach.  We should lean into the discomfort and start making ourselves more comfortable with discomfort.

The discomfort that we feel in most changes or challenges that we undertake aren’t dangerous to our health.  Sure, they may make us feel tired, sore, frustrated, among a wide range of other emotions.  But it’s not really something that we can’t endure.

We’re all worried to search for the past of least resistance.  It’s easy.  Maintaining the status quo requires much less effort that bringing change to your life.  But if you’re even thinking of change, then the status quo in your life isn’t cutting it for you.

So how can you get comfortable with discomfort?

Exercise/Diet

A prime example of dealing with discomfort is when you look at exercise programs.  Any exercise program that actually works is going to involve a significant amount of discomfort if you want to see results.

It’s not comfortable to start using muscles you haven’t used in ages.  It’s difficult to start a cardio program when you haven’t run since high school.

But people all too often give up without truly exerting themselves.  It may be because they’re starting to get winded on the exercise bike.  They may have promised themselves that they would do 30 minutes of cardio to start, but gave up halfway through because it was getting hard.

Or maybe they get through the first week or two of the program, but they’re feeling sore and decide to start skipping some trips to the gym.

Instead of focusing on the discomfort, start re-framing this discomfort as if to say to yourself “I’m feeling sore because I’m working hard.”  Keep reminding yourself that change is never easy, but that you expect discomfort and you’ll work through it.

The same goes for sticking to a diet.  It may be uncomfortable to skip your evening junk food binge.  It may take some extra time to make healthier meals instead of relying on frozen dinners or even worse, take out.

But passing up on eating empty calories isn’t going to ruin your life.  Acknowledge to yourself that you have the craving, resolve to deal with the discomfort for a few minutes and let the urge pass.

Quitting a bad habit

Habits are part of our life.  They are so ingrained in our lifestyle that they are automatic.  So training ourselves to not do something isn’t easy.  Our mind will revert to doing what it’s accustomed to doing.  If the habit is something like smoking or drugs, it may even be worse as our body is craving it.

Ending the bad habit of procrastination is another great example of discomfort.

Doing meaningful work is taxing.  It may be physically demanding if your job entails manual work or mentally demanding if you’re an information worker.  Sometimes it’s both mentally and physically demanding.

We’re all too aware that it’s much easier to browse the web, chat with colleagues, go on extended breaks, or call friends then it is to get down to business.

If we truly examine what’s going on when we procrastinate, it basically comes down to us avoiding the uncomfortable work that needs to get done.  But if we work through the initial resistance of this discomfort, we start building momentum that lets us push through this barrier.

The added benefit is that you’ll start feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment in getting these tasks off your plate.

Dealing with discomfort

Humans are creatures of comfort.  We like the comforts of relaxing and knowing what’s ahead of us.  When we start pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, we start to resist.

But the area just outside our comfort zone is where true change happens.  We start reaching and trying to get a little bit better at whatever we are pursuing.

It’s the people that don’t quit when they encounter this resistance that make real changes.

Make sure you push through the discomfort.

Use Your Passion as a Compass for Goal Setting

Setting goals wasn’t always easy for me.

I’ve been a productivity junkie (for lack of a better word) for as long as I can remember, so I’ve always heard it preached that goals are essential to making a better life yourself.  It was always a good idea to have goals in various aspects of your life.  So you should set goals for your career, your athletic endeavors, your finances, etc.

But what I didn’t often see was that some of the more important goals you should set surround following your passions in life.

After all, when you look back on your life, do you think you’ll cherish the fact that you improve efficiency in completing those TPS reports week after week or that you achieved your goal of seeing everyone of your favorite groups in concert?

By no means am I suggesting that you should completely disregard any career or financial goals, but I feel like more emphasis should be placed on setting goals that will bring more joy to your life.

What’s your passion?

Strangely enough one of the biggest roadblocks when I tried to set goals around my passions was that I had a hard time defining my passions.  It’s hard to know what goals to set when you can’t define your passions.

So I arranged some time alone to think about what brought happiness into my life.  I focused on what activities I enjoyed with friends, what places I’ve always wanted to visit, what sports I enjoyed playing, what music groups I’ve always wanted to see.  At the end I didn’t exactly have an exhaustive list, but I had a place to start.  I identified a couple of items that I knew I could achieve with a little planning and used a couple of these as my goals.

You may not have this trouble.  You may be fully aware of what your passion is and you may even be lucky enough to pursue it daily.  I applaud you for that and wish more people would take this approach.

But if you’re struggling to really identify your passion like I was then set aside some time for yourself to do some thinking.  Go somewhere quiet with just a pen and paper in hand and jot down some of the things that you really enjoy doing.

I would suggest avoiding using a computer to do this brainstorming as it tends to provide too many distractions.  A pen and paper lets you focus on just the topic at hand and the free space on the paper will provide a good canvas for your brainstorming.

Set at least one goal based on your passion

At the end of your brainstorming session you’ll hopefully have a clearer idea of what you’re really passionate about.  What I don’t want to see happen however is that you become overwhelmed that you have so many passions that you would have to set a goal based on each of them.

What I suggest you do, is set just one goal based on your passion.

The reason for this is that you’ll still need to set goals based on your career, health, finances, and other areas of your life.  By also setting a goal based on one of your passions, it doesn’t allow the rest of your life to suppress this passion.

So why shouldn’t you set more goals around your passion?

You only have so much time and motivation in the day to move your goals forward.  Instead of spreading your focus thinly around several different passion goals, it’s best to focus all your available energy on achieving one goal.

Once that goal is achieved, you can set a new goal in another area you’re passionate about.

Don’t let life get in the way

We all have responsibilities in life that will steal our time and move us away from our passions.  I realize that we can’t just shun these responsibilities, but I don’t think it’s fair to ourselves to delay our passions completely to a later period in life due to these responsibilities.  What tends to happen is that these passions get suppressed indefinitely and as we only get to live this life once, we end up regretting the things we didn’t do.

So take some time today to reflect on what you’re truly passionate about and set a goal to take action on your passion

How to Just Start

One of my favorite articles on productivity was written by Leo Baubauta on his ZenHabits.net site.  The title of the post was “Best Procrastination Tip Ever.”  While the title of the post seems more than a little aimed at getting some search engine love for people searching for anti-procrastination tips, the message of the post resonated deeply with me.

The essence of the post was that getting started is difficult, but by just focusing on getting started on the first piece of work you can overcome the initial resistance and build some momentum towards getting some serious work done on an important project.

Leo is much more eloquent in his delivery of the message and I encourage you to read his article, but I just want to add my own thoughts on this subject.

If you’ve been an avid reader of productivity articles on the internet, I’m sure you’ve read about the state of flow.  It’s that critical point in your work where time seems to slip away as you’re solely focused on the task at hand.  You may not always be aware of it, but think of times when you’ve been at your desk and you glance at the clock, notice that it’s 4:15pm and you wonder where the day went.  Chances are you were in a state of flow all afternoon when you were churning through your work.

Flow is really the state in which you get most of your work done.

Doing the work when you’re in a state of flow is easy.  The key is figuring out a way to consistently get yourself into a state of flow.

This is why Leo’s tip of “just starting” is brilliant.  He encourages you to just get started for 30 seconds or a minute, just to get things moving.

It’s like a snowball that starts going downhill.  Initially you have to start rolling a snowball down a hill.  But it quickly starts picking up momentum, becoming bigger and bigger and moving faster as it continues to roll downhill.

If we look at an example, consider a report you may have to write.  When you’re getting started, you look at that report as a monster that’s going to take copious amounts of work and use up your precious time to get done.  Getting started on this type of project is a challenge because you really fear the amount of work it will take.  So often you will put starting on this project off until a later time, much closer to the deadline.

If you were to just start however, maybe you could look at opening your computer and saying that you’re just going to open your favorite word processing software and create the file that will be your report.

So you’ve named your file and you’re looking at a blank screen.  From here you might think, “well it wouldn’t be too painful to maybe write an introduction.”  So you type for a few minutes and the introduction is drafted.  It didn’t take too long.  So then you decide to outline some topic ideas for the various sections that may require some additional research.  And you proceed from there.

Do you see how this works?

Most often, the hardest part about work is getting started.

You can really use this in almost any area of your life where you find yourself having trouble getting started.

The key is to remember to focus on just the first step you can take towards moving your task forward.  Identify the smallest element of that task and focus on doing that smallest piece.  If you feel a desire to move away from that task, acknowledge that desire but don’t let it consume you.  It’ll pass shortly and you can re-focus on completing your first task.

Do this consistently when getting started on tasks and you’ll be much more likely to spend more time in the state of flow