Controlling Your Own Schedule

Sometimes people use their job as their blanket excuse for not being in control of their schedule. “Oh… I can’t because I have a job,” is the main reason people give for not being able to do 30-day trials, experience extended travel, and do immersive deep dives.

However, during periods without a job, these same people often switch to a different excuse. Oh… I can’t because I’m unemployed right now.

Self-employed people do this too. Oh… I can’t because I have to work.

Work will come and go. Your finances may fluctuate over time. But no matter what, time is passing. You have the same number of days this month that anyone else has. You’re free to decide how you’ll use these days. If you want to spend this time on work, you can do that. If you want to spend the time on other growth and lifestyle activities, you can do that too.

You Have More Control Than You Think

Many people have a hard time accepting the responsibility of being in control, so they yield this control to someone else. Unless you’re being forcibly enslaved, giving someone else control of your schedule is only a temporary assignment. The truth is that you’re still in control all along because you can make a different decision whenever you desire.

If you give control of your schedule to a boss, a company, a client, a spouse, or anyone else, that’s a temporary choice. These people don’t actually have control over your time without your consent. You can always change your mind and start saying “No, thanks” to their requests.

Not having control over your schedule can be stressful. But the lack of control is an illusion. You chose to put yourself in that situation, and you didn’t have to. You could have made different decisions, and you still can. If you don’t like the stress, you can take back control and make different decisions.

I’m not suggesting that you can control other people’s reactions, and fortunately you don’t need to. I’m just suggesting you can start using your time differently and thereby get different results.

Shortly after I started my first business developing computer games, I made the mistake of giving control over my schedule to other people, mostly publishers I worked with. That created a lot of stress. Several years later when I realized I didn’t have to do that, I stopped and reclaimed control over my schedule. The stress went way down, and I enjoyed my life and my work so much more.

Even when I was deep in debt, I realized I didn’t have to waste my time answering creditors’ phone calls or reading their computer generated letters. During a time when it seemed entirely unreasonable to control my own schedule, I took back control and let everyone else lay the consequences upon me. I worked on the projects that appealed to me. I exercised a lot. I put more energy into my overall enjoyment of life. I let the most demanding people spin their wheels while I focused on my own goals.

Is this completely selfish? I don’t think so, especially since contribution was a big part of my goals. By taking back control, I learned to make better decisions than others had been making on my behalf.

The people I know who enjoy the greatest lifestyle freedom (and usually the greatest all-around happiness) wield a lot of control over their schedules. They decide what they want to do and when they’ll do it. They don’t always get it right, but they figure out what works for them through trial and error. They like seeing each year as a canvas upon which they consciously paint the unfolding story of their lives.

We all have this freedom. We just have to step up and claim it, which means we have to start consciously rejecting unreasonable claims to our time.

Even if someone else seems to control some of your schedule, this is happening with your consent. You didn’t have to consent to this, and you still don’t. No one else actually controls how you spend your time. People can offer you tasks to do, and you can accept or decline those at will. Either way there are consequences.

You control your schedule. You can pretend that you don’t, but yielding control to someone else is only a mind-game you play with yourself.

The Real Consequences

What are the consequences of not following orders? You may get chastised. You may get fired or rejected. What keeps you in line is the fear and resistance regarding those consequences. The real consequences are usually no big deal though.

The consequences that many people fear are the same consequences that other people accept and enjoy as their daily reality. I get chastised now and then. And I’ve lived without a job for 24 years so far. These aren’t scary consequences to be avoided. This is just normal, everyday life.

Look at the flip side. Have you thought about the consequences of obedience and passivity? What are the consequences of following too many orders? You may not be able to travel much. You may not have time to explore a rich and rewarding social life with quality friends. You may not be able to consciously work on your personal growth. You may not have time to set and achieve your own goals. You may miss out on life itself.

There are consequences on both sides. The question I like to ask is this: Which path will yield the most growth in the long run?

The main reason I don’t give someone else control over my schedule is that I trust that I’ll make smarter, more growth-oriented decisions than they will. I don’t have to make brilliant decisions every day, and I wouldn’t find that realistic anyway. I just have to outperform a would-be boss, which isn’t difficult.

The Growth Challenge of Freedom

Having lots of control over your schedule is a major growth challenge unto itself. What will you do with all that time? There are so many possibilities to consider! How can you even chose from such an endless sea of possibilities?

People often let someone else make these choices for them because they don’t understand the real challenge. The challenge is simply to make a better use of your time than someone else would choose for you.

You can hire someone to control your time for you, but they’ll generally take a significant cut of the value of your labor for the privilege (typically 60-70%). Hiring a manager (i.e. a boss) is expensive, so if you go this route, be sure to hire a quality manager who will listen to your feedback and help you grow and improve over time. Having a mentor boss for a while can be a valuable part of your journey.

When you’re in control of your own schedule, your personal weaknesses are fully exposed. If you aren’t very focused or disciplined, you’ll soon find yourself drifting and flailing. Then you have a growth challenge. How can you make reasonably intelligent decisions and focus and discipline your mind to get things done? Can you do this on your own?

These are tough challenges to be sure. That’s why the self-determination route appeals to me so much. These challenges really push me to grow. I find myself dropped into a sea of possibilities, and I must learn to swim.

This challenge is there for all of us. Just because we pretend it isn’t there doesn’t make it recede. You can give someone else control over your schedule, but the personal challenge remains intact. The invitation to greater growth is always present. You can embrace this challenge by consciously wielding control over your own schedule, acknowledging that you can never truly assign this responsibility to someone else. Or you can go dark and pretend you aren’t in control.

Oh… I can’t because I have a job, isn’t a valid excuse for not tackling other growth challenges. You can tackle whatever challenges appeal to you, so don’t pretend to be helpless and out of control. Just say, “I choose not to tackle these growth challenges because I’m currently exploring and enjoying other growth challenges right now.” Even when you’re choosing to follow orders for a while, stay conscious by acknowledging that you’re always in control over your decisions and your schedule.

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An Overlooked Factor in Creating Positive Change

By Leo Babauta

I’ve created more positive changes in the last 11 years than I can count: from health and fitness to mindfulness and happiness; from productivity and finance to clutter and relationships.

There are lots of factors that are incredibly important in creating any positive change: starting small, taking small steps all along the way, finding motivation and accountability, finding the support of people around you (or finding it online), learning to mindfully notice your urges to quit.

These are all super important. But there’s another factor that most people overlook: how you feel about the change.

This is what I’ve learned in the decade-plus since I’ve been doing this, for myself and helping other people:

  • If you’re not in the mood to take the small steps you need to make the change, you’ll probably procrastinate. Same if you’re overly tired.
  • If you feel excited about the change, you’ll take the steps.
  • If you miss a couple of days, you feel discouraged and are likely to not even want to think about it. We’re very good at avoiding thinking about uncomfortable things.
  • If you can keep the good feeling going, you’ll form a habit or make the change you want to make.
  • Other people can be discouraging, or they can be encouraging. This makes a lot of difference.
  • We ourselves can talk to ourselves (in our heads, what I call “self talk”) in a positive, encouraging way, or we can talk to ourselves in a negative, discouraging way.
  • It’s easy to get stuck in a negative mood, where you just don’t think you can do it and give up caring. Our minds tend towards the negative. We put up resistance whenever we think about making changes.
  • It’s also possible to get into a positive track, where you’re feeling great about the changes and want to keep going. This is amazing. But it doesn’t always last forever, so you have to be mindful of how you’re feeling.

You can see from all of the above how important your attitude is, your mood, your feeling about the change. You can see that it’s affected by how you’re feeling each day, your tiredness and stress levels, how encouraging or discouraging other people are toward you, and how you talk to yourself.

So putting all that together, let’s talk about some actions you can take to get better at this overlooked skill.

How to Be Awesome at Feeling Awesome

It’s not possible to always feel positive and upbeat. I don’t even recommend it — lots of us try to block out or avoid any negative feelings whatsoever, and this means we’re rejecting a whole range of feelings. I used to buy into this idea, but now I let myself feel down. I let myself feel discouraged, sad, frustrated, irritated — and accept these parts of myself instead of rejecting them.

That said, you can take actions to put yourself in the mood for positive changes. It’s helpful to be mindful of your mood and what effect it has on you.

Here are some actions you can take:

  • Practice mindfulness of your feelings and self talk. When you’re procrastinating or resisting taking steps you know you should take, turn inward and notice how you’re feeling. Are you tired, discouraged, stressed? Are you saying things like “I can do it later” or “I deserve a break”? Become aware of what’s going on inside and how it’s affecting you.
  • Be accepting of your mood. Instead of rejecting or avoiding your discouraged feelings, just stay with them. Be a good friend to them. Notice that you’re having a hard time, and give yourself love. In this way, you develop a trust in yourself, and you see that the mood isn’t anything to panic about, it’s just a passing feeling.
  • Learn what puts you in a positive mood. By practicing mindfulness, you can see that some activities get you in a funk, while others might make you feel great. For me, going for a walk or doing a workout always make me feel great. Taking a shower, having a cup of tea, and meditating are other great ones for me.
  • Find encouragement. Surround yourself with people who will support you, hold your feet to the fire, give you positive vibes. When you have a friend like this, hang out with them more. Negative people, hang out with them less. I’ve found they just drag me down. Look to online communities if necessary.
  • Be mindful when you miss a couple days. This is a danger zone, I’ve found. Missing a day is no big deal, but missing two days often feels discouraging and people quit at this point. Ask friends for help if you’ve missed two days. Take the smallest step to get moving again.
  • Take small positive steps. When I’m in a funk, the smallest positive steps are all I need to get myself in a positive mood for taking more small positive steps. Identify the smallest step you can take, and put everything you have into it.
  • Be forgiving. You’ll mess up. We all do. That’s OK — it’s not a straight, linear process, but a messy one. There’s learning, there’s missteps, there’s lots of starts and stops. That’s how life works, be less attached to doing it perfectly and instead grateful to be doing it at all.
  • Find joy in every step. You’re not doing this to get to some great destination at the end. Each positive step can be a joy in itself, a place to smile and breathe and find gratitude. What a wonderful thing to be where you are!

In the end, none of this is easy. But by shining a light on this process, we can take it from an overlooked area that’s holding us back, to something we explore with curiosity and wonder.

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A Guide to Overcoming Procrastination & Finding Focus

By Leo Babauta

We all procrastinate. The question is how (or even whether) we overcome the tendency to procrastinate, and if we can find focus.

This matters — our lives are brief and limited, and while we don’t need to be productivity robots, running in fear of difficult tasks to distractions and comfort is not the best way to spend our lives.

We can face these fears. We can learn to deal with them mindfully. And in doing so, we can develop an ability to return with courage to the work that matters the most to us, to create something important, something that helps the world at least in a small way.

Distraction and running aren’t useful habits. Let’s learn to overcome them and find focus to create.

The Procrastination Fears

Why do we run from hard tasks? Because of fears:

  • That we don’t know what we’re doing
  • That we’re gonna mess up and look bad
  • That we’ll succeed and then have to face a scarier situation
  • That the task will be difficult and uncomfortable

Basically, we fear discomfort and uncertainty. We want comfort and certainty, and distractions like email and social media and reading news and blogs are easy and we know how to do them. Very well. Distractions are always much more tempting than difficult work, much more comforting than facing fears.

We all have fears, but our habit is to run from them. Avoid even thinking about them. Our minds are very good at this.

We get distracted and then forget completely about what we were supposed to be doing. Our minds are good at forgetting and getting lost.

We try to focus, but then immediately we have an urge to switch to something else, because staying is uncomfortable. Our minds love comfort, hate discomfort, and will run to comfort every time, if we let them.

So that’s why we procrastinate … but how do we overcome this?

Overcoming Procrastination

Our minds are very good at running from discomfort, and most of the time we don’t even realize it’s happening. We just have an urge to switch, and follow the urge immediately.

The trick then, is to catch ourselves when we’re about to switch. When the urge comes up to switch, we have to notice.

Then we have to pause, and deal mindfully instead of mindlessly with the urge.

Here’s how:

  1. Create a practice space. Do an Unprocrastination Session once a day to practice. Pick an important task (any will do — one you’ve been procrastinating on is a good choice). Set a timer for 5 minutes, or 10 if you feel ambitious. Commit to doing nothing but your important task for that 5 minutes.
  2. Don’t let yourself switch. Clear distractions and have nothing that you can do except this one task. You’re single-tasking. When you get the urge to switch (when, not if), notice this! And don’t act on the urge. We can feel an urge and not act on it. How liberating!
  3. Stay with the urge. Instead of acting on the urge, instead of ignoring the urge … just stay with it. Sit still and feel how it feels. Notice the fear of this task that you’re facing. Notice discomfort. Boredom, dread, feeling intimidated or overwhelmed or confused or incompetent. Just stay with it and be curious about the physical feeling. What does the energy in your body feel like?
  4. Return to the task. After sitting for a minute with the urge and the discomfort, they’ll probably die down. Simply return your focus to your task. You didn’t scratch the itch, and the itch wasn’t that big of a deal.

By working on this once a day, you can begin to develop trust that you’ll be OK if you don’t scratch the itch, that you’ll be able to handle the urge without acting on it, that you’ll be fine if you deal with the discomfort of a difficult task. This is quite an accomplishment!

Finding Focus

Focusing on one thing is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Whether you want to focus on writing a report or a book chapter, focus on drawing or practicing music, focus on reading or meditating on your breath … your mind is in the habit of switching to something else.

Focusing, then, is a matter of practicing staying.

In the Unprocrastination Sessions I described above, we talked about how to practice staying. In addition, I’d like to offer a few more practical tips:

  1. Have a deeper motivation. The thing you are focusing on shouldn’t just be “nice to do,” but should really feel meaningful to you.
  2. Remember your motivation as you get started. This task doesn’t just have fear in it … there’s a great deal of love as well. Let the love drive you past the fear.
  3. Use external motivation if needed. While love is the best motivator, sometimes you just aren’t feeling up to it. So use external deadlines and accountability. Promise to email something to a friend or colleague by a deadline or you have to do something embarrassing. Put your reputation on the line. Join an accountability group. Don’t let yourself off the hook.
  4. Allow yourself to get into Flow. This is the state of mind where you are lost in the task. It’s easy to only be halfway into a task, with your mind flitting around and wanting to do something else. But if you can get fully into a task, you’ll truly love doing it. That means clearing all distractions, and really putting your mind into the task. I find it helpful to have a challenging task, and one that requires me to visualize. For example, if I’m writing a story, I should be imagining how the story is going, visually, not just thinking about the words.

Focus isn’t a magical quality that you can just acquire. It is a skill that takes daily practice, and you get better at it but never completely master it. You’ll slip up and get discouraged, but you can just practice some more.

In the end, all the practice will be worth it, because you’ll learn to focus on things that truly matter. And that is a life worth living, in my experience.

Need Some Help?

If you’d like to go deeper into this practice, and learn to overcome the obstacles you might face, I’m teaching a six-week course called Unprocrastination + Focus in my Sea Change program.

We’ll have twice-weekly video lessons to go deeper into motivation, distractions, dealing with urges, focusing on important tasks (and how to choose them), Flow, and more. We’ll get into some skills like interval training, pausing, resetting and more.

In addition, we’ll have:

  • Daily challenges and reminder emails
  • A forum to discuss the lessons and problems you’re having
  • A live video webinar with me where you can ask questions
  • A challenge to do a daily Unprocrastination Session for the duration of the course

I hope you’ll join me — try Sea Change for a week for free (then $19/month after that).

PhotoReading Mindfest (Free)

Learning Strategies is hosting a free audio streaming event this week, intended to help you significantly increase your reading speed. It’s called the PhotoReading Mindfest and runs August 15-20, 2016.

You can access the Mindfest via your web browser or phone, and each day there’s a new lesson for you to listen to. The first two lessons are already online, so you can listen to them now.

All six days of the Mindfest are free, with new sessions posted each day. Each session can be streamed for free for a limited time. After that Learning Strategies will be selling the recordings.

Get free access to the PhotoReading Mindfest.

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To Those Who Are Struggling

By Leo Babauta

On Twitter I met a struggling soul who shared a lack of friends, family, motivation, self-esteem and confidence.

I feel for him because I know what it’s like to struggle, to feel down and even depressed, to have no motivation. I have suffered from confidence problems, many times.

So I’m writing this for him, and all my fellow human beings who are struggling.

You are struggling, maybe even hurting. And that is really difficult. It can feel hopeless, lonely, confining.

These feelings are very real, and really hard. How do you climb out of this when you don’t have the motivation to change? How do you make friends who can help you if you don’t feel the self-esteem and confidence?

I am sorry you’re hurting and struggling. But know that even if you feel alone, you are not alone. I, for one, am connected to you because I’m thinking of you, all of you. I’m connected to you because I too have suffered in similar ways. We have shared pain, shared hopelessness, shared loneliness.

And it’s not just me: every single human being who is alive has felt this kind of pain, hopelessness, and loneliness at one time or another. We are all connected through this shared pain and struggle. We feel alone, and in this we are connected.

The feeling of being alone, separated from the rest of the world, is an illusion. Sure, it’s an illusion that feels very very real. But it’s not true.

Consider: you are supported by millions, even billions, of people. You are using electricity that is powered by an electric company, with thousands of employees working to give you that electricity. You drink water brought to you by yet more thousands of people. You eat food raised and harvested and brought to you by thousands of people. Brought to you on roads built and maintained by thousands of people, on vehicles (ships, trucks, cars, planes) built and run by thousands of people. You wear clothes, use gadgets, sit on furniture, all built and brought by thousands of people. And all those thousands and thousands of people are themselves supported similarly by thousands more.

You are supported by millions of people, and those millions are supported by millions. The entire world supports each other. We became the people we’ve become only because we’ve had that support, we’ve connected to share ideas, learn from each other, serve each other.

I believe this is a miracle. We each are supported by a miracle of connections to every other person on the planet. We feel alone, but it is only an illusion.

The way to rise from this struggle is to turn from your own pain to the pain of others. Who else around you is struggling? How can you offer them love? How can you help them, ease their pain in some way?

By turning outwards, toward the pain of others, we can fill our hearts with love for them, wanting nothing but happiness for them. Then, by this simple turning, we have hearts filled with love. I think that, too, is a miracle.

I can’t take away your pain, but I can offer you two miracles: the love that comes from turning toward other human beings, and the connection we have to everyone on Earth. I feel connected to you, and my heart is filed with love for you.

To Those Who Are Struggling

By Leo Babauta

On Twitter I met a struggling soul who shared a lack of friends, family, motivation, self-esteem and confidence.

I feel for him because I know what it’s like to struggle, to feel down and even depressed, to have no motivation. I have suffered from confidence problems, many times.

So I’m writing this for him, and all my fellow human beings who are struggling.

You are struggling, maybe even hurting. And that is really difficult. It can feel hopeless, lonely, confining.

These feelings are very real, and really hard. How do you climb out of this when you don’t have the motivation to change? How do you make friends who can help you if you don’t feel the self-esteem and confidence?

I am sorry you’re hurting and struggling. But know that even if you feel alone, you are not alone. I, for one, am connected to you because I’m thinking of you, all of you. I’m connected to you because I too have suffered in similar ways. We have shared pain, shared hopelessness, shared loneliness.

And it’s not just me: every single human being who is alive has felt this kind of pain, hopelessness, and loneliness at one time or another. We are all connected through this shared pain and struggle. We feel alone, and in this we are connected.

The feeling of being alone, separated from the rest of the world, is an illusion. Sure, it’s an illusion that feels very very real. But it’s not true.

Consider: you are supported by millions, even billions, of people. You are using electricity that is powered by an electric company, with thousands of employees working to give you that electricity. You drink water brought to you by yet more thousands of people. You eat food raised and harvested and brought to you by thousands of people. Brought to you on roads built and maintained by thousands of people, on vehicles (ships, trucks, cars, planes) built and run by thousands of people. You wear clothes, use gadgets, sit on furniture, all built and brought by thousands of people. And all those thousands and thousands of people are themselves supported similarly by thousands more.

You are supported by millions of people, and those millions are supported by millions. The entire world supports each other. We became the people we’ve become only because we’ve had that support, we’ve connected to share ideas, learn from each other, serve each other.

I believe this is a miracle. We each are supported by a miracle of connections to every other person on the planet. We feel alone, but it is only an illusion.

The way to rise from this struggle is to turn from your own pain to the pain of others. Who else around you is struggling? How can you offer them love? How can you help them, ease their pain in some way?

By turning outwards, toward the pain of others, we can fill our hearts with love for them, wanting nothing but happiness for them. Then, by this simple turning, we have hearts filled with love. I think that, too, is a miracle.

I can’t take away your pain, but I can offer you two miracles: the love that comes from turning toward other human beings, and the connection we have to everyone on Earth. I feel connected to you, and my heart is filed with love for you.

Removing Ourselves From the Center of Everything

By Leo Babauta

When we go about our day, we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening … and at the center of that narrative is a single person.

Ourselves.

When I talk to myself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated me badly, when I tell myself that it’s OK to procrastinate because I’m tired and not in the mood … I’m at the center of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about my life and everything around me, with me at the center.

I’m sure you can relate — you’re at the center of your movie as well. It’s natural, and there’s nothing wrong with doing this.

But some difficulties can arise from this self-centered view of the world:

  • We interpret other people’s actions as it relates to us, so that they are helping or harming us … giving us what we want or getting in the way of what we want. But their actions aren’t really about us — their actions are about them, because they are at the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lens of our self-centered view, the actions often make no sense, and frustrate, hurt or infuriate us.
  • When someone makes a comment that we take as an attack on something about ourselves … we then feel the need to defend ourselves. “I’m a good person,” we think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it … we could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if we try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about us, then we’ll be less defensive or offended.
  • We interpret everything else around us — from bad traffic to Internet comments to terrorist attacks — by thinking about how it affects us. “This sucks (for me),” we think. But we could also remove ourselves from this story and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not about us.

Again, it’s natural and normal to interpret everything this way … but you can see that it can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.

So what can we do?

First, become aware of the stories we tell ourselves.

Next, see that we are putting ourselves at the center.

Then see if we can remove ourselves from the center of the story.

What would the story be without us in it? For me, that story becomes something like:

  • Things are happening — how interesting! What can be learned from them? What can be understood?
  • Someone else is doing something or talking, and it’s probably about them. How can I understand them better?
  • There is difficulty and unhappiness in what other people are saying and doing. How can I feel compassion for them and offer them love?

When I remember to do this — and I very, very often don’t — it lifts the difficulty that I’ve been facing internally and shift my focus to understanding and empathizing with other people, seeing how I can give them compassion.

Of course, I’m not really removed from the story. I’m still there, but just not necessarily at the center of it. Instead, I focus more on my interconnectedness with everyone else, everything else, and see that they have supported me in becoming the person I am, and that I can support them as well.

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Naked Social Approaches

Here’s a 3-minute video of my friend Fred demonstrating his boundless social courage by approaching people on the street, starting up conversations, and getting some phone numbers – while fully naked.

Later in the video you’ll see Shogo participating as well. Fred and Shogo are two of the guys with whom I recorded the Imaginary Men audio program. In that program we talk about our personal growth and relationship journeys, and Fred shares how he was once diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and what he did to overcome it and push himself to face his fears.

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Caring for Your Mind

The quality of your mind determines the quality of your life. If your thinking is foggy, unfocused, circular, or random, your results will reflect that. If your mind is sharp, focused, and clear, your results will reflect that too.

If you care about having a good life, then care about cultivating a strong mind since a strong mind will provide you with a good life.

Address Weaknesses

If you’ve been weakening your mind in some obvious ways, know that caring for your mind requires addressing these weaknesses.

If you consume alcohol, scale it back or drop it from your life. Alcohol is a neurotoxin known to damage the brain in various ways. It has a particularly damaging effect on memory. It’s difficult to cultivate a strong mind if you regularly poison it. The same goes for other toxins that negatively affect the brain.

Avoid eating fish since fish is among the most toxic and neurologically damaging “foods” you could possibly consume today. Due to the pollution of nearly all the world’s waterways, the fish you consume today is nothing like the fish consumed hundreds of years ago. Fish absorb toxins easily, especially heavy metals, and these toxins get concentrated in their tissues, so you get a hefty dose of neurotoxins like lead, mercury, and arsenic with every bite. Eating a fish today is like taking a sponge, dipping it into a vat of toxic chemicals, and then eating the sponge. The negative effects are cumulative as these toxins build up in your tissues (including your brain) and degrade your functioning. If you’ve been consuming fish, I highly recommend that you consider doing a heavy metal detox, and most definitely drop the fish from your diet unless you’re trying to poison your brain. You have absolutely no dietary need for fish or fish oil supplements. These items are simply way too toxic to be healthfully consumed.

If you fail to exercise regularly, realize that not exercising is at least as health damaging as smoking regularly. Exercise has such a wide variety of physical benefits, including significant neurological benefits. Cardio exercise in particular has been studied the most and has a large amount of positive research touting its benefits, including rebalancing hormones and neurotransmitters, improving mood, making sleep more efficient, increasing focus and concentration, enhancing memory, and more. If you want an immersive tour of the mental benefits of exercise, read the book Spark.

Generally speaking, pay attention to what degrades your mental performance, and make an effort to drop those bad habits from your life. Cutting the bad habits is often much more important than adding good habits. What difference will it make to add some good habits if you’re re-poisoning your brain with a fresh supply of toxins every month?

Consume Quality Input

Your mind is trained by sensory input. If you give your mind low-quality input, such as a high volume of television, web surfing, or social media, your mind will suffer for it. Heavy users of social networking sites, for instance, have been found to have lower attention spans and impaired academic performance (source, another source). That isn’t necessary causal though. It may be that such services attract more users with lower attention spans and worse academic records. Regardless of the causal relationship, this doesn’t bode well for people who are active on such services.

Instead of random and chaotic input, feed your mind focused, high quality input. Read several highly rated books on a subject that interests you. Take notes on what you read, and seek to apply what you learn, so you can test the ideas for yourself. Get book recommendations from the smartest people you know.

If you’re taking in a lot of input but the input isn’t helping you grow and improve, then change the input that you expose yourself to. This is a key difference between people who practice conscious mental management and those who don’t. The mental drifters accept whatever input flows their way. The mental managers pause to consciously choose input sources that will provide their minds with quality mental fuel.

Do Deep Dives

The Internet can provide us with a high volume of shallow learning experiences. It’s easy to bounce around from one topic to another and feel you’ve learned some worthwhile ideas. But if your exposure is shallow, random, or irrelevant, your mind can’t intelligently digest the info and apply it to your life.

Our brains aren’t well suited to random direction changes day after day. We’re better off doing deep, immersive dives into focused subjects. This can produce strong transformational effects that benefit us.

In 12+ years of blogging, I’ve seen the greatest transformations among readers who digest my work in a deep dive fashion. Instead of just reading new articles as they come out, they use my website in a more focused and deliberate way. For example, they’ll visit the Archives page and spend several hours reading every article on a topic that interests them. They create the experience of reading a book compiled from the collection of more than 1000 articles. Some people have made a habit of reading a few articles per day until they’ve read every single one, usually going in order from oldest to newest. That’s equivalent to reading about 25-30 books on personal development, a truly deep dive although this would span many subtopics.

A great way to do experiential deep dives is with a focused trial for a given length of time, such as the famous 30-day trial. When it comes to new experiences, the exterior view looking in is markedly different than the interior view looking out. A temporary trial gives you the opportunity to experience the interior perspective, which is especially valuable when considering lifestyle changes. You can test new habits and possibilities for a short length of time to see how they feel, so you don’t have to overcommit in the dark. This is a great way to give your mind a taste of new experiences, so you can make informed decisions about whether to pursue them long term.

Embrace Intelligent Friends

Our mental standards are heavily influenced by our peer groups.

If your primary peer group has low standards for mental development, this will surely drag you down as well. If you want your mental development to surge ahead in a positive way, perhaps it’s time to release the mentally sluggish peers from your life, and fill your life with bright, clear-minded friends who are constantly learning, growing, and improving their minds.

We seek to earn the respect of peers that we respect. It’s hard to be in a group of avid learners and not become one yourself.

Move towards people who challenge you, who inspire you, and who can be a constant presence in your life preventing you from wallowing in an intellectual wasteland.

Sometimes you can seek out more intelligent people to include in your peer group first, such as by joining a new club, and you’ll gradually reduce the time you spend with the less inspiring connections. But if that approach isn’t readily working for you, it may be because the presence of too many mind-numbing people in your life effectively blocks more intelligent people from wanting to connect with you because they figure your standards are too low. So you may need to reduce some of that social drag (which could be influencing you in ways you don’t even notice) to successfully invite higher quality connections.

I’ve seen this work both ways. It’s rare to see people make significant changes in their lives without also shifting their peer groups. Often the peer group shifts first, and then a bigger personal transformation is made. The higher standards of the new peer group help provide the motivation to make personal changes as well.

Conduct Mind Management Reviews

As a final recommendation, I suggest using your journal to do monthly or quarterly reviews of your current mind management practices. Ask and answer the following questions:

  • How have I been weakening (or poisoning) my mind lately? What do I need to stop doing?
  • What’s the best input I’ve been feeding my mind? How can I increase and improve this input?
  • What’s the worst input I’ve been feeding my mind? How can I reduce or eliminate these sources?
  • What deep dives have I done, and what have I learned from them? What deep dives shall I do next?
  • Who are the most intelligent and inspiring people in my life? How can I spend more time with them?
  • Which people in my life are dragging me down or negatively affecting my standards? How can I reduce their influence?

Treat your mind as a precious resource. Protect it from negative influences. Feed it quality input. Invite it to be influenced by quality people.

The better you consciously manage your mind, the better the quality of your life will be.

The post Caring for Your Mind appeared first on Steve Pavlina - Personal Development for Smart People.

Upgrading Your Mind

For the upcoming Conscious Mind Workshop, the purpose is to significantly improve the way you manage your mind, so you can turn your mind into a more power ally on your path of growth.

What does this mean? Why does it matter? What will it do for us?

In this article I’ll share some of the practical benefits of improving your mind management skills and some key benefits you can gain. This isn’t a how-to article. It’s an overview of some of the wonderful possibilities to explore.

Mind Management

Many people identify with their minds, treating their minds as synonymous with themselves. This is problematic when it comes to personal growth because it encourages us to wrap our egos into our mental functioning. When our minds behave poorly, we’ll tend to defend our mistakes instead of diagnosing and solving problems in our thinking.

It’s more effective to see our minds as a resource that we can utilize, train, and manage. Think of your mind as a piece of technology that you own – a combination of hardware and software. This technology is powerful, but you can also improve upon its current functioning.

Our brains are trained by experience, even while still in the womb, so our mental abilities improve as we gain experience – at least up to a point. As we mature and learn to think consciously, we can wield greater control over our mental training and thus our mental performance. We can recognize and diagnose problems in our thinking. We can find better and stronger mental patterns and retrain our old ones. We can effectively become smarter and more capable by using our intelligence to upgrade our intelligence.

If you’ve ever consciously captured a new skill, such as playing a musical instrument, figuring out how to use a new app, or learning to eat a different diet, then you’ve already experienced the benefits of mental upgrading. But have you considered how many other ways you could train your mind to gain abilities and increase performance? Have you tackled some of the most fundamental upgrades that could add tremendous richness to your life?

Let consider some of these foundation-level upgrades…

Sleep Mastery

One of the most practical gains from mental development is sleep hacking and its various long-term benefits. If your sleep habits are poor, this can drag down your results almost every day. Who needs that?

When I was 20 years old, I used to sleep in late, often till the afternoon. It was really hard to get myself to wake up at any particular time. I’d get a sluggish start to each day. This dragged down my self-esteem at the time, and I didn’t feel very ambitious. How could I think highly of myself when I had a hard time just getting out of bed?

I made some gradual improvements until my 30s, when I finally made a push to put my sleep habits under my conscious control. I learned how to become an early riser and how to get up right away when the alarm goes off. I built skill in lucid dreaming (staying conscious in my dreams). I explored polyphasic sleep and biphasic sleep. I gained the permanent ability to fall asleep in less than 30 seconds when I want to sleep. My sleep become more efficient, more restful, and more flexible. And I mastered the ability to take restorative naps in less than 20 minutes.

Poor mental management often goes hand-in-hand with poor sleep habits. If you increase the level of control you have over your mind, you can cultivate sleep habits that work for you instead of against you. Since sleep is something you do every day, taking control of this one area can create ongoing positive ripples that last for decades.

Would you want to carry your current sleep habits with your for the rest of your life, or would you prefer to upgrade them first? If your honest answer is that you’d like an upgrade, I invite you to make the effort to do so. You’ll surely appreciate the long-term payoff.

If you’ve already made some upgrades here, consider the benefits you’ve gained. Doesn’t it feel amazing to wield such control over something so basic and frequent? And doesn’t this encourage you to tackle another upgrade in some other part of your life, knowing that there’s a real payoff to be captured?

Accelerated Learning

We live in an age of constant learning. If you haven’t figured that out yet, you’re surely falling behind.

Not only is it important for us to learn faster, but we also need to be more discerning, choose the right types of information to learn, so we can maximize our benefits.

I treasure mental hacks that can help me learn faster, retain better, and turn ideas into practical actions. I shun social media because it’s mental junk food. It does me little good to see status updates about people’s meals, pets, and yoga poses. Instead, I cherish my Amazon and Audible accounts and voraciously devour new books. I especially favor books and articles that my most intelligent friends recommend, and these friends tend to avoid social media for similar reasons.

I typically read about 100 books per year (roughly 2 per week), and I’m pretty good at remembering what I’ve read. People have often told me during conversations how they find it remarkable that I can pull so many odd facts and pieces of data from my memory. When I’m really in an immersive research mode, I’ve sometimes read five or more books per week for a while.

Much of what I learned about accelerated learning came to me through a trial-by-fire approach during my early 20s, when I tackled the goal of earning a computer science degree in only three semesters instead of four years. Not only did I successfully earn the degree, but I also picked up a double major (with mathematics being the second degree), and upon graduation I was given an Outstanding Undergraduate Award for being rated by the faculty as the top computer science student that year. I learned numerous simple hacks that helped me learn faster, eliminate educational inefficiencies, and stay motivated. Each semester I kept improving upon my improvements. In my final semester, I took 37 units and even had time to program a four-pack of computer games on the side, which were published the following year. Those games earned enough in royalties to pay for my entire university education and then some. Consequently, I’m a huge fan of accelerated learning techniques because they did wonders for me when I really needed those benefits.

Our bureaucratic educational systems are ridiculously outdated. Fortunately, we don’t have to saddle ourselves with such archaic learning approaches anymore. If we want to zoom ahead, we can do so.

Because these techniques are so beneficial, I incorporate accelerated learning methods into our workshops to help attendees learn faster as well. This is why the workshops are so interactive and not just lecture. Even the lecture parts includes lots of stories because people naturally remember stories better than mere facts and data. When people remember the stories, they remember the key points as well.

If you feel like your mind is sometimes slow and sluggish, you can speed it up. Your mind could be buzzing with a delightful flow of motivation, ideas, and energy each day. If you can increase your ability to absorb quality input, your internal processing will speed up as well, and this in turn will help speed up your creative output. As you learn faster, you’ll be able to create faster as well.

Why do I have an endless supply of creative ideas for fresh articles? Partly this is because I consume a huge amount of quality input, so my mind is frequently discovering new connections between old ideas and new ones. And yet I also retain the ability to keep my mind relaxed and peaceful when I want it to be.

There is so much fascinating knowledge to acquire that will enhance and enrich your life. But you have to rev up this engine and keep it fueled with quality input.

Turning Fear Into Confidence

Most of our fears are irrational. We experience stress, hesitation, anxiety, and nervousness over events that aren’t actually dangerous. These emotions can cause us to hold back when taking action is more advantageous, so we miss opportunities again and again. In the distant past, such mental habits may have helped us survive under harsh conditions. In the modern world, however, they mostly just get in our way.

What could you do if you had more courage? You could enjoy a richer relationship life. You could make significantly more money at work because you’d ask for more raises and promotions, or you’d take more risks as an entrepreneur. You could enjoy a richer lifestyle to be sure.

Many years ago I recognized that I had a fear of public speaking. Why should my mind generate such irrational signals when I find myself in front of an audience (or when only imagining the experience)? This is unintelligent behavior for the modern world.

I decided to upgrade my mental programming to resolve this mental defect. It took me a while to find the right reframes, but eventually I went way beyond my initial goal. This culminated with doing the three-day Conscious Heart Workshop in 2015, which involved speaking off the cuff with no plan, no prepared content, and no notes, including coming up with interactive exercises along the way. I had a great time doing it, and the attendees gave the workshop delightfully positive reviews afterwards. Moreover, I experienced no fear or nervousness before or during the event.

With a series of simple mental transformations, I retrained my mind to stop generating this irrational fear and to replace it with happiness, confidence, and excitement. This one change gives me access to a lifetime of anxiety-free public speaking, whether I prepare content in advance or not. The additional income generation from this outlet made this transformation well worth the time investment, but for me the more important aspect was the personal victory over what had been an embarrassing stumbling block during my youth.

Where are irrational fears holding you back? What if you could train your mind to stop generating fear in such situations and to generate positive motivation, happiness, and excitement instead? Or perhaps you’d prefer to experience serenity, calmness, and inner peace? Imagine what that would do for your life. And realize that this is possible. Many people have already done it. This is a learnable skill. You can indeed train your mind to stop generating irrational fear.

Boosting Your Productivity

Can you get yourself to sit down and do quality, focused work for hours at a time? Can you do this consistently?Do you find it easy to motivate yourself to work? Or do you suffer from procrastination, self-doubt, perfectionism, or other mental maladies?

When you manage your mind well, solid productivity and a strong work ethic are powerful benefits. These benefits cascade into other benefits like increased self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Knowing that you have the work ethic to successfully manage any reasonable challenge makes you more tolerant of risks and less fearful of setbacks since you know you can rely on your work ethic to quickly bounce back. This is especially important for entrepreneurs and people whose results depend on high levels of self motivation to move the ball forward.

If you don’t manage your mind well, your productivity will suffer. Bad habits will suck you down. This in turn drags down your confidence, self-reliance, and self-esteem.

Making Good Decisions Efficiently

A key benefit of mental mastery is being able to make good decisions. Many of my readers have told me they get stuck in analysis paralysis when facing big decisions. They keep second-guessing themselves. This is especially common among people who are thinking about starting a business. They have trouble getting something practical up and running because they’re perpetually stuck in the idea stage.

It makes sense to spend some time weighing options to increase the quality of our decisions, but if we do this to excess, life passes us by, and we have nothing to show for our analysis. Analyzing options doesn’t produce results. If your mind keeps thinking itself in circles, you have a mental defect to overcome.

A well-managed mind is decisive but also flexible. It can weigh options quickly and carefully, get into action, and adjust course as needed.

There are many good processes for making decisions. A simple one I often use is a decision matrix. I list reasonable options, score them on several factors, and rank them. I used such a matrix to decide which workshops to do this year. I invited my readers to suggest topics, narrowed the list down to 12 possibilities, and then surveyed my readers to assess interest. I scored each workshop on several factors such as reader appeal and alignment with my knowledge, skills, and experience. I selected the four workshops with the best scores.

Most of the time I just make decisions intuitively because I’ve already spent years studying decision making techniques, so those methods are pretty well internalized now. Consequently, my gut instinct tends to align well with any logical or analytical process I might use.

Some people are too hesitant. Some people are too reckless. Both are symptoms of a weak decision-making process. Fortunately you can train yourself to make quality decisions in a reasonable amount of time, act on them, and adapt as you go. This requires a combination of skills, but they’re all learnable.

When your mind is well-trained, you’ll also enjoy making decisions more, especially important ones. It’s stimulating and rewarding to direct your mind to carefully consider options and make a wise and intelligent choice.

Turning Your Inner Critic Into an Inner Coach

Many people have overly critical self-talk, which usually does them more harm than good. This inner voice can be consciously re-trained to serve as an unwavering ally.

Imagine having a positive and supportive inner coach. This coach is always on your side. This coach keeps searching for opportunities and helps you focus your energy. This coach never gives up.

I’ve worked with a couple of different personal coaches in the past, but I haven’t feel the need for one in many years because my own mind does a pretty good job of coaching me. My inner voice challenges me a lot, but he’s also incredibly supportive and encouraging. When I have a setback, he builds me back up again. When I have a victory, he celebrates with me. When I’ve been coasting for a while, he nudges me to set new goals and get back to the sweet spot of challenge and flow.

It’s so much easier to succeed when you have a strong inner coach that won’t let you give up, get down on yourself, or coast for too long. With some mental training, you can design and unleash your own inner coach, which will help you set goals, overcome obstacles, and more. Think of this coach as your brain’s internal cheerleader.

What About the Time Investment?

Conscious mind management is powerful indeed. Just one shift in a single area of your life can create massive positive ripples that pay off for decades. But what about time investment required to discover, test, and apply all of these hacks?

There is a time investment to be sure. But the time is going to pass anyway. At some point you’ll be 10 years older. At another point you’ll be 20 years older. You can drag your current mental dysfunctions with you into those future decades, or you can perform serious upgrades and find yourself in a far more advantaged position on those future decades. How much do you care about your future self? Someday that future self will be you.

Understand and accept that if you do nothing, you’re going to drag your worst qualities into your future by default, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. In some cases your habits and behaviors will cascade into further downgrades, such as poor health habits impairing your mental functioning and making it harder to focus as you get older.

You can copy my approach and immerse yourself in personal growth for years. Or you can be more casual about it. Either way, you’ll discover some gems and gradually improve. As I shared in the previous article about patterns of success, the good news is that people who strive to grow usually do succeed in the long run.

If you want to make faster progress, I encourage you to train up with me in person, so I can teach you the best mental management tools, strategies, and techniques that I’ve learned thus far. I will of course continue to blog about such topics from time to time, but there’s no substitute for doing immersive deep dives together in the same room with a motivated group of like-minded people. If this appeals you you, I invite you to attend the three-day Conscious Mind Workshop in Las Vegas this month. It’s less than two weeks away: August 19-21, 2016. In terms of the sheer volume, breadth, and depth of material we’ll cover, this will be the most content-rich workshop we’ve ever done.

We’re going to do deep dives into all of the topics I mentioned above – sleep mastery, accelerated learning, turning fear into confidence, productivity, decision making, self coaching – and so much more.

Much of what I’ll share at the workshop has never been mentioned in my blog. If this workshop was turned into a single blog post, it would be about 150,000 words long, which is about 50 times the length of this article. At these workshops you’ll have plenty of opportunity to ask questions too, so we can adapt the solutions to fit your situation.

Most of the time when I run a workshop, I run it only once. I expect that will be the case with this one, and I have no plans or intentions to repeat it. It won’t be filmed or recorded either. Since my articles can stay online indefinitely, I feel there’s something special about creating and sharing an experience that has a singular fixed location in time and space. It’s a way to create a memory that’s unlike any other.

After a workshop I normally like to go out to dinner with people who are interested, so we can continue to discuss the ideas as you’re still processing them. After the last workshop in July, we had group dinners on the Sunday night and Monday night after the workshop, and after the Monday night one, a group of us went for a walk on the Vegas Strip together while Rachelle and I played tour guides. I find it fun and stimulating to connect with such wonderful, vibrant, growth-oriented people. We all share and cross-pollinate even more good ideas that way too.

Even if you only apply a small number of the ideas from the Conscious Mind Workshop, I think you’ll see some powerful benefits. The nice thing about mind hacking is that one change unlocks another, then another, and then another. I think what’s most important about this workshop is the incredible exposure you’ll have to such a tremendous variety of quality ideas, many of which are easy to apply, so before you even go home, you’ll have made numerous upgrades in your thinking patterns.

Don’t settle for sluggish, defective mental software. Upgrading your mindware may not be as easy as upgrading an app on your computer, but it is doable, especially when you have help.

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