Our Top 13 Articles of 2013

JANUS by RedJinn

As 2013 draws to a close we wanted to collect together all the articles from last year that were both our personal favorites and the favorites of our readers. We think that every year the most important thing you can do is be a little bit better that year than you were the previous, so hopefully these will give you a head start on 2014. Chronological order is boring, so they aren’t sorted in any particular order.

Enjoy.

1. Language Learning for Introverts

Speaking a language is a skill. Like any other skill, if you really want to get good at it then it’s going to require practice. For languages that means lots of time talking, meeting new people, socializing, getting out there and making mistakes. If you’re an extrovert that all sounds great.

But if you’re an introvert – that’s terrifying.

Introverts and extroverts just don’t function the same as each other. As a result, trying to force an introvert to study like an extrovert or vice versa is never going to work as well as finding a learning style that’s tailored to how that person learns best.

Thankfully if you’re on the introverted side of things, all is not lost.

2. The Epic Guide to Becoming Healthy and Achieving Your Fitness Goals

If you’re just starting out on the journey to change your health for the better – whether by shedding excess fat, gaining muscle or both – or have already begun but not found any success, the sheer volume of information out there on what to do can be staggering and contradictory. This is particularly frustrating when you don’t have any good way to sort out the good advice from the bad. We decided to help take some of that confusion away by condensing our tested and proven methods into one easy to digest guide.

This is a guide to our philosophy for attaining epic health and fitness. Everyone should be healthy and fit, and everyone can do it.

3. Scientific Sleep Hacking: Easy Ways to Optimize Sleep

There’s something about sleep and sleep optimization that seems to captivate people in the productivity and lifestyle design communities. I suspect it’s mostly because people who are deep into lifestyle design also tend to be fairly ambitious and, as a result, the thought of spending less time asleep and having more time to accomplish things is tantalizing.

Our very first experiment in fact was with trying to switch to a polyphasic sleep schedule. I called it a success at the time, but I recognize now it was a failure.

I’ve not abandoned my interest in optimizing sleep though, and since then over time I accumulated a collection of methods for optimizing sleep that are backed not only by my own personal experiences, but more importantly by actual research.

4. 20 Easy Ways to De-Stress and Relax

Are you stressed out?

I know, I know – stupid question. Everyone’s stressed out. It’s just a condition of modern life. We all have pressure from work, family, finances, health concerns and a million other things. There aren’t really many good options for escaping it.

The problem is being stressed out all the time can literally kill you or at least set in motion changes that can bring about a much earlier demise than would have otherwise been in your future. Health problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes to acne can be caused or exacerbated by being too stressed out, and if you’re trying to lose weight the cortisol it floods your system with will make things exponentially more difficult for you. Being stressed is serious business.

So what can we do about it?

5. Seven Lessons Learned from 80 Days Around The World: The Epic Lives of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t read or at least heard of the popular novel, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. At the time Verne was one of the most popular authors alive, and the book inspired people to travel and adventure and much debate arose questioning whether or not it was in fact possible to travel around the world in 80 days.

The story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s competition is an obscure but fascinating tale within which are lessons I think are as amazing as they are important. Which is why I’m sharing with you a brief summary of their story and some of the amazing lessons I’ve learned from it.

6. Flow 101: How to Love Your Work

For a lot of people, work sucks.

It’s built right into our cultural perceptions and usage of the word. When there’s something you don’t want to do, or something that’ll be difficult and unpleasant what do we tend to say – that’ll be a lot of work. Clearly ‘work’ as a concept tends to have some pretty negative connotations.

That doesn’t have to be the case though and, personally, I think the world would be a better place if we could correct this issue. Work can be fun, enjoyable and positive. You can love your work again, or at least change your work to make it something you love by using a single principle as your guiding compass.

Flow.

7. Workouts for Wimps: Your First Pull Up

Pull ups are easily one of, if not the, most psychologically intimidating exercises for people who are just starting out.

There is hope though. I have gone from being completely unable to do a single pull up to currently doing multiple sets of them with additional weight hanging off of me and you can do the exact same thing. All you have to do is follow these easy progressions and you’ll be rocking out pull ups in no time.

8. Why Chinese is Easy

I’ve heard it since I was little – Chinese is THE hardest language in the world! Back then before I knew anything about the language I would stare at the beautiful characters and wonder, exactly what makes it so hard to learn Chinese? It wasn’t until I got much older and decided to tackle learning the language that I have come to think that not only is Chinese not the hardest language to learn, but that I think the reason why people say it is is because of a fear of something different.

This is not to say that learning a language is easy – all languages require that you give time, dedication, a lot of hard work and effort in learning and practice and even to go out of your comfort zone regularly. However, I disagree that Chinese is any harder than any other language.

9. Want to Be Incredible? Break Your Kettles and Burn Your Boats

Timid people don’t make history.

Timid people back down when they’re faced with a challenge. Successful people are the bold ones, the ones who go all in and understand that the only two ways to truly be defeated are to quit or to die.

Xiang Yu knew this was true as early as 208 B.C. When his small army crossed the Yellow River to reinforce Julu (an area that’s now the city of Xingtai in Heibei province) he found his 50,000 men faced by a Qin army of 400,000 soldiers. Knowing that his men would have to fight their hardest to defeat an army that outnumbered them so badly he ordered them to save three days worth of food, destroy their kettles and cooking utensils and sink the boats they’d used to cross the river.

10. Why ‘I Don’t Have Time’ Is a Bullshit Excuse

Out of just about every excuse in the world, the one I most despise is also the one I seem to hear most frequently – I don’t have time.

I don’t have time to learn a new language, I don’t have time to workout and get fit, I don’t have time to start a business, I don’t have time to do this or that or anything else.

Bullshit.

Not only am I going to explain why it’s an inane excuse, I’m going to show you ways you can ‘find the time’ to do everything you could possibly want to do and more.

11. Stop Fishing: Overcoming the Drug of Consumerism

Henry David Thoreau, one of my favorite authors, once said “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”

I think this is an excellent reflection of the consumerism driven cycle most people get trapped in and then spend their entire lives fulfilling. Consumerism dominates modern life, at least here in the U.S. but I would wager throughout the developed world as well.

It’s a pervasive thing that really saturates our culture. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except it almost always leads to an artificial and transient state of happiness that leaves people unfulfilled. In other words it tends to make life suck.

So how do we break out of the consumerist cycle?

12. 13 Mental Traps You Need to Avoid

In almost all situations the best way to reach the most beneficial option in a tough decision is solid, rational thought. There’s something to be said certainly for going with your gut at times, particularly in situations where an immediate decision is required to get you out of danger. For bigger less immediate decisions though taking a long objective look at things gives you the best vantage point from which to make the best decision.

The problem is, in a lot of ways our brains suck at rational, objective thought.

Thankfully we can fight their influence once we know what to look out for. Here are thirteen of the more common ones and some easy ways to counteract them.

13. Easy Ways to Maximize Limited Language Learning Time

It’s a fact of life – most people are busy.

You’ve got a full time job or school to worry about, possibly a family to take care of, and countless other responsibilities. Not everyone wants to spend their downtime studying either, you need a little time to relax and have fun too.

When you add all of that up, there isn’t always a lot of time left for learning a new language. If you’re living in a country that primarily speaks the language you’re learning it’s not as much of an obstacle, but not everyone has that luxury. Thankfully there are some tips and tactics you can use to get the most out of both the limited time you can dedicate to practice and all the downtime you’ve got throughout the day.

Now kick off 2014 to a great start and get on course to end next year even better than this one.

Photo Credit: RedJinn

Welcome Fluent in 3 Months Readers!

Welcome Sign by Nutmeg Designs

Welcome language lovers! You’re in good company here.

We wanted to wish a warm welcome to everyone coming over to visit from Fluent In 3 Months! If you’re here and have no idea what I’m talking about, Benny over at FluentIn3Months.com was kind enough to feature one of our articles on his site about language learning for introverts.

If you’ve not been to Benny’s site before and are learning a language, don’t even finish reading this. Go click that link. Also, if you’re anything like me, get ready to wind up with a lot of browser tabs open.

Anyway, everyone who’s new to the site if you’d like to know a little more about us and what we do, you can check out our about page.

We write about a lot of things, including fitness, philosophy, productivity and self-improvement, but chances are you’ll be particularly interested in what we’ve written about language learning.

To make it easier if you don’t know where to start, we’ve pulled out a handful of our favorites from the language learning category.

If you enjoy our articles, sign up for our newsletter on the sidebar to the right to get exclusive articles we only send to our subscribers and a free copy of our 61 page starter’s guide.

To keep updated you can also like us on Facebook, or follow us on Google + or Twitter.

If you just want to say ‘Hi’ or ask us a question, you can send an e-mail to Adam (Adam /@/ RoadToEpic.com) or Caroline (Caroline /@/ RoadToEpic.com).

Welcome again, and we hope you find things here that help you live the life you want to live!

Photo Credit: Nutmeg Designs

Welcome Lift Big Eat Big Readers!

Welcome LiftBigEatBig.com readers!

This is a bit of an impromptu update, but we’ve recently been shown some love on the Lift Big Eat Big Facebook page and wanted to say welcome!

Here are a handful of our more popular posts that you may be interested in:

If you like what you find here you can like us on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates on the right side.

Thanks again to Lift Big Eat Big for sharing!

An Admission of Failure: My Annual Review and 100th Post

100 by Chrisinplymouth

This is late in coming, but it occurred to me recently that we had missed our annual review this year. It turned out to be somewhat fortuitous though – this came out to be our official 100th post since starting Road to Epic. It seemed fitting then to have my annual review now and see where I’ve succeeded, where I’ve failed and what things I need to change for my next year on Earth.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say ‘annual review’, you can find last year’s annual review here along with a quick explanation.

First, let’s look at last year’s list of goals.

Last Year’s Goals

These are some of the things I intended to accomplish before I turned 25. The ones that are stricken through are those which I actually accomplished.

Road to Epic Goals

  • Reach 4,000 unique visits per month.
  • Stick to our Tuesday/Thursday post schedule for the entire year.
  • Write at least one guest post for another blogger per month.
  • Complete and implement a custom theme for the site.
  • Finish at least three of the RtE side projects I’m considering.

Health/Fitness Goals

  • Have my bodyfat percentage tested by a reputable facility (BodPod etc.)
  • Learn to complete 5 free-standing handstand pushups.
  • Learn to deadlift at least 350 lbs.
  • Run a mile in under 5 minutes.
  • Complete one marathon.
  • Attend a Crossfit gym for at least one month.

Travel Goals

  • Spend time in at least 4 different countries before next year.
  • Return to China and Korea.
  • Spend at least two weeks in Japan, preferably one month.
  • Attend the Wik Family Reunion in Chicago.

Language Goals

  • Have at least one conversation with a native speaker per week in Korean and Japanese.
  • Finish reading the first Harry Potter book entirely in Japanese.
  • Read one entire book in Korean.
  • Re-Learn Mandarin Chinese to fluency in 6 months.
  • Learn 1,000 Mandarin Chinese words in 30 days.
  • Make a short video in either Japanese or Korean.

Financial Goals

  • Earn at least $4,000 per month off of our own projects.
  • Completely pay off our debt (minus our mortgage) which currently amounts to around $9,000.
  • Find and explore at least two new sources of income.
  • Sell at least 30 unnecessary possessions.
  • Secure an investor for one of our non-blog side projects.

Miscellaneous Goals

  • Write an entire novel in 30 days.
  • Film a Parkour video.
  • Construct a set of Sasuke/Ninja Warrior training equipment.
  • Rejoin a martial arts school.

So by the numbers, I’d say it was not a terribly successful year in terms of these goals. Out of 30 total goals I met 10 of them for a success rate of 33%. I got close on some of them, like the post schedule and Japanese practice, but I’m not counting close. I’m going to call that an overall failure. There’s nothing wrong with failing, it’s how we get better at things. So let’s start by looking at what things I did wrong.

The Mistakes

  • Loss of Focus – When I look at the goals that I was actually successful at, they’re all the ones that I set up systems to continue to track. Some of them, to be honest, I completely forgot about after a few months. Looking for investors ceased to be a goal since we decided to set that project aside, and I totally forgot my plans to refresh my Mandarin.

    The lesson learned from this is that if I’m going to accomplish the goals I set for myself I need to have reminders. Constant and persistent reminders seem to be the only way to keep me on track.

  • Missing Small Steps – One of the other problems I notice in many of the areas I failed in is I never set up small goals as stepping stones to lead to the big ones. Having these smaller goals makes a big difference, particularly if you’re like me and you tend to procrastinate on projects where the path to the goal is a little hazy in favor of ones where you know what you need to do next.

    I’m not saying that having big, ambitious goals is a bad thing. In fact I tend to prefer those kind. I think it’s best though to make sure to have clearly defined intermediate goals to build up to the big one.

  • Insufficient Discipline – I lack discipline. I really do. I’m working on it, and there have been lots of things I’ve been doing to improve my discipline, but I still don’t quite have enough of it. If I don’t keep a close eye on myself I hit the end of the week and find that all of my time has been spent reading, goofing off or playing video games and I got absolutely nothing done.

    That’s a big problem. It’s the reason we got rid of our TV. I’ve tried going completely cold turkey though and I can’t manage that either. The trick is going to be finding the right balance between work and play.

The Successes

  • Well-Tracked Fitness Goals – Fitness was one area where I was particularly successful. I credit this in large part to fitness apps like Fitocracy which make tracking a breeze. As I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times, what gets measured gets managed. Having a clearly defined record of progress, not to mention the social and psychological boost of earning points, made sticking to my plan and reaching my goals easy.

  • Collateral Benefit – There were a lot of successes and failures that led to other tertiary benefits that I wasn’t expecting. Exploring other income sources led me to focus a lot more on my writing which led to the publishing of one of my short stories, something I intend to continue working with. Additionally all the training drastically improved my flexibility, something that wasn’t a strict goal but was definitely a benefit. In others, failure didn’t mean no gain at all. For example I may not have hit a 5 minute mile, but I got my time down from just over 10 minutes to right at seven minutes per mile. While technically a failure, it’s still a big improvement.

What I’m Changing This Year

  • Bigger But Fewer Goals – I think part of my problem was I just set too many goals and then didn’t keep track of them all. I could remedy this by having some way to remind myself of all m goals all the time, but I think it’ll be easier for me if I just pare the list down instead. For that reason I’m going to pick six big goals that I intend to accomplish before my next birthday instead of a long list.

    Having that small list should make it a lot easier for me to stay focused on my goals and not completely forget any of them like I did last year.

  • Smaller Goals Set at the Beginning of Each Month – Even though I know better, I didn’t break my big goals into small steps and then distribute them through the year. That was one of the reasons I didn’t do too well. This year I’m going to pick a handful of small steps / goals at the beginning of each month that I can complete before the end of that month that will bring me closer to my big year goals. Divide and conquer and all that.

  • Focus on Improving Discipline – Like I said before, I have some serious discipline issues. I get distracted easily and if I don’t feel like doing something I have an extremely hard time justifying doing it even though I know I should be. I waste tons and tons of time on things that don’t matter and don’t really help me in any way.

    I’m not saying I want to be a productivity zealot, I recognize that trying to make every moment as productive as possible would essentially suck all the joy out of life. There is a time and a place for fun and relaxation and not doing anything. I just do it too much. I have a handful of tactics I’m going to test out this year to see what helps me the most to resist my bad habits.

This Year’s Six Goals

  • Launch two RtE projects.
  • Reach a combined squat/deadlift/bench press of over 1,000 lbs.
  • Go on an international trip.
  • Complete six months of focused Mandarin study to get back to where I was.
  • Earn enough from side projects to be self-sufficient.
  • Write at least 5,000 words per week.

I have a lot of smaller monthly goals too, both that build up to these and that are just standalone things I want to accomplish. With the changes I’m making we’ll see if this year turns out more successful than the last.

How have you been doing on your yearly goals? Share with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Chrisinplymouth

Honorbound Published on Kindle and Nook

Honorbound by Adam Wik

One of my short stories has recently been published on the Kindle and Nook and is currently only 99 cents. We’ve got more in the works, but the publishing experience has taught me a lot. Some posts will be coming soon detailing the whole process and explaining how you can take advantage of it to get your own work published. In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt from Honorbound

Honorbound

© 2012 Cairn Publishing All Rights Reserved

The first time you kill someone is the hardest. At least, it was for me. I don’t mean like in videogames and things. That’s easy. That’s pretend. I mean blood on your hands. Spilled guts. I mean murder. After the first one, it gets a lot easier.

I remember the first time I saw the sword. Uncle Jim had brought me to some charity estate auction. The hall it was in was dusty and cramped. There must have been at least a hundred people there, but it felt like a thousand. The a/c was out and the August sun had turned the room into a sauna.

“So who was this guy?” I asked. They were wheeling off an old wood trunk, just won by a portly man in the front whose fervent fanning with an auction paddle was failing to stop the sweat stain spreading over his chest.

“Some old rich guy,” Jim said. “Paper said he was an importer, bought and sold rare stuff from around the world.”

So far it had all looked like junk to me. “What happened to him?”

“No one heard from him at his office for a few days and started to get worried. One of his partners went over to check on him and found him dead.” He grinned his big stupid grin. “Found him in his living room. Decapitated. Police said it wasn’t foul play either. He had a big axe mounted over his fireplace, he must’ve been looking for something in there or cleaning it out and the mountings broke. Whack.” He chopped his wrist with his paddle. “Cut his head clean off. How unlucky was that?”

I didn’t have time to comment before they brought the next item out for auction.

“This is the last item for sale today,” the auctioneer called, “and the very last item the late Mr. Stamford added to his collection, acquired only a week before his passing — a beautiful antique katana from Japan.”

He lied. It wasn’t beautiful. Sunsets are beautiful. Flowers are beautiful. The sword was more. It was exquisite. Perfect. The handle was bound tight in gray ray’s skin leading to a jet black guard. The scabbard was two feet of sleek, brilliant emerald. It can’t be adequately described. It was like every gift I had ever wanted compressed into one glorious object. The auction hall, the heat, the sweaty crowd, it all faded. There was only the sword.

I’m not sure when the bidding started, but my uncle must have read my face. He raised his paddle.

“Two hundred dollars.”

I tore my eyes from the sword to gape at him. “What are you doing?”

Someone called out another number and Jim raised his paddle in turn.

“Three hundred fifty dollars.” He turned back to me. “I wasn’t going to get anything, but I missed your birthday so… call it a late present.”

The bidding went back and forth. I was petrified, certain my uncle would be outbid, but finally the others fell silent. The auctioneer banged his gavel. The sword was mine.

I could have screamed. I could’ve jumped up and down and hugged Uncle Jim and screamed, but I didn’t. That would have interrupted the auction. Someone else did that for me.

No sooner had Uncle Jim been declared the winner when the doors to the hall slammed open and a man tore in. The herd shuffled around to see who had disturbed their proceedings as the intruder raced to the stage, shouting at the top of his lungs.

“Not the sword!”

His tweed suit was wrinkled and worn, it looked like he’d been sleeping in it. His disheveled hair matched the wild look in his eyes.

“There will be blood! It’s cursed! You can’t sell it!”

Like most people with good advice, the crowd took him for a madman.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” The auctioneer glanced at the guards on the side of the stage. “This item has already been sold to the gentleman in the blue cap. Bidding is now closed.”

“I don’t want to buy it, I want it destroyed!”

The man tried to dash onto the stage but the guards were too quick. Each took an arm and began to drag the madman kicking and shouting to the doors. As he was dragged past our row he saw Uncle Jim’s cap.

“Destroy it! Don’t draw the sword! Don’t draw it! It’s cursed!”

He jerked one arm free and pulled his wallet from his pocket. Before the guard could catch him he slipped a card out, crumpled it in his fist and threw it at us. Still shouting he was dragged from the room and the doors slammed shut behind him.

The quiet lasted only a second before the hall filled with murmurs. It took the auctioneer’s gavel several slams to silence the crowd and declare the auction finished. As Uncle Jim and I stood to go claim my present I noticed the crumpled ball at my feet. I snatched it up before it was lost in the shuffle and slipped it into my pocket. I’m still not sure why.

It probably only took ten minutes for Jim to write a check and claim the sword, but it felt like hours before we had it. He carried it to the car, and only once we were in and on our way did he finally let me hold it.

“Your mom’s gonna kill me,” he said. “Let me take it in when we get there and talk to her first. Tell her it’s just for decoration, and don’t ever take it out when she’s around.” He gave me a stern look. “Most of all be careful with that thing. If you cut yourself or do something stupid I’m never gonna hear the end of it.”

I promised him he didn’t need to worry. I wasn’t stupid. I wouldn’t do anything to risk having it taken away from me, and I’d definitely never hurt anyone with it.

How wrong I was.

You can get Honorbound for Kindle or get it for the Nook for only 99 cents.

You can also keep up to date on all the other things we’ve got in the works to be published by visiting my Amazon author page.