Memento Mori: A Birthday Note About Death

Genbaku #2 by Mrlins

The Genbaku serves as a reminder of all the people whose lives were cut short on this day 66 years ago.

Before reading, please note that this isn’t so much of an instructional or informational post like most on here so much as it is a… philosophical one. The intent here isn’t to teach you anything new. Rather, as its name suggests, this post is a memento – a reminder. Specifically, a reminder of our mortality; something that I think is far too easily forgotten nowadays. So if you’re looking for something more informational or just think it’s a downer to be reminded of how fragile your life is, we have lots of other good articles to read. Otherwise, enjoy.

Today is my birthday. On this day 24 years ago, I drew my very first breaths. On this very same day in 1945, 42 years before I got here, 100,000 people in Hiroshima, Japan breathed their last.

It’s fairly safe to say that none of the people who died that day knew what was coming. These were people who were going about their normal day, not worrying about whether they were going to see tomorrow or not. There were children with homework to worry about, people planning vacations, people with dates that evening – likely even people celebrating their birthdays, like I do today.

For all of these people the thought that their last few moments of existence would take place that same day probably never crossed their minds. Honestly, they probably didn’t expect their lives to end for years. They were going about their days just like any other when, quite literally in a flash, they were gone.

Every year on my birthday, as I celebrate the fact that I made it around the Sun one more time without my heart stopping, I’m reminded of all these people who had their lives cut short without any warning.

Now, you might think that that’s a really depressing thing to be thinking about on your birthday and you’re right, to a point it kind of is. However it’s a fantastic memento mori. What’s that? Well, my Latin is a bit… rusty, but basically it means ‘Remember death”, or rather “Remember your mortality”. The exact Latin translation is unimportant, (although individuals more learned than I will probably be horrified by my using it as a noun) the point is a memento mori is something that reminds you that you are mortal and one day, perhaps years from now perhaps later this evening, your life will end.

Ok, but isn’t that a depressing thought too?

I guess it can be, but it depends largely on how you look at it. See, I think that most people don’t think very often about the fact that they may only have today left. That, unlikely as it may be, they may be stricken dead tomorrow and then it would be all over. You might scoff, but the people of Hiroshima would have too on August 5th.

I think its human nature to not think about it very often, or to keep living in a state of pseudo-denial about our mortality, but in the long run I don’t think it’s beneficial. I think people just need to look at things the proper way.

There are several personal memento mori which I have around the house to remind me each day that by this time tomorrow I may no longer be drawing breath. These are things connected to lost loved ones or other events which in some way remind me of my mortality. It isn’t a depressing thing, having all these reminders of my mortality around. In fact, it makes my life a whole lot happier.

I know that if I didn’t have little reminders around that today might be the last day I ever have, I’d be much more likely to squander it. It’s really easy, if you aren’t mindful about things, to completely throw a day away doing things you don’t really want to be doing.

In the end though life is far, far too short and too top it off tomorrow is not a guarantee. I’m not saying you should be stressing out constantly to squeeze every last bit you can from each moment you do get, that would be missing the forest for the trees, what I’m saying is that you should be checking everything you do against whether or not, if you were to die tomorrow, you would be happy you had spent your time doing it.

So place a few memento mori around your house and remember, you will die. Your heartbeats are finite and your days are numbered. You have little more than a blink of existence to do everything you wast to accomplish, and there are no second chances.

So don’t waste what little time you’ve got.

This has been your reminder.

Moving to Disqus

We’ve officially made the decision to move all of our comments over to Disqus both to mitigate some of the spam we get and to make discussions within the comments a little easier to manage.

You’ll already notice the comment section at the end of each post has changed. For the time being, we’re not going to make anyone sign up to comment. However, if the spam continues to get out of hand, we will consider requiring commenters to sign up first.

It’s really easy to do, and I like Disqus enough to encourage signing up anyway, which you can either do on their signup page or using the little Disqus button above the comments on our site.

Current comments are being migrated over, so if it looks like all of your comments have disappeared don’t worry – they’ll all be back soon.

Have any thoughts on the Disqus system? Let us know what you think.

How to Fail by Society’s Standards and Have Fun Doing It

Fail Road by FireflyThe Great

This is the path society has laid out for you.


As a male citizen of the United States born into an upper-middle class family, there are certain expectations that are placed on me.

I’m told that I need a good, stable 9 to 5 job. I’m told that I need to have a college education in order to find that career. After all, I’m told I can’t settle for just any job, it has to have good benefits, and a sufficient salary to provide for my family. I’m told I need to have a house. Not an apartment, no, I’m told I need a yard, property, I need to own land. This property better have a garage too, because I’m told I need to have a car. Not just any car, though. I’m told I need to have a new luxury car. I’m told it should be at least as good as, if not better than, what the neighbors drive. I’m told I need to have about two children. I’m told they should be a boy and a girl, though of course I’m told such things are up to chance.

I’m told all of these things are what it takes to be a success in life.

Of course, with all the telling going on, I’ve noticed no ever thinks to stop and ask, “What do you actually want?”

This really shouldn’t be a novel idea. Yet, I constantly find more and more pressure placed on me to do what I’m expected to, regardless of my own wishes. My own wishes, in fact, seem to be entirely secondary to the opinions of others on how my life is best lived.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this?

Live How You Want

All of that advice on how to live a successful life may have been relevent 50 years ago. Maybe even 20 years ago. The thing is, it’s not anymore. Now, in large part thanks to the Internet, there is no excuse not to be doing what you want to be doing.

Chances are though, you’ve been pushed into following a path in life that society wanted you to take, rather than what you wanted. How can you tell if you could be doing something more with your life?

Evaluate Your Priorities

Sit down for a momement and think about what things in your life are really important. It sounds kind of ‘self-helpey’, but taking a few minutes to sit down and list out all of the things you really want in life can make a big difference.

As an example, let’s look at a few of the things that are important to me and I want in life. I want to travel all over the world. I want to have the financial freedom to go wherever I want when I want. That doesn’t mean I need to be rich, just that I can’t be slave to a job that is location dependent. I want to constantly be improving myself, and helping others as much as I possibly can.

What’s most important to me is continually learning, improving myself and helping others.

Compare Those Priorities to Your Life

Look around you. Is the way you’re living right now congruent with the priorities you just wrote down? If you said your priority is spending time with family, how much time do you spend away from them each day? If you said you want to travel more, what are you doing right now to work toward that goal?

Chances are, the life you’re living isn’t one that’s actually going to move you toward what you really want.

I’ll use myself as an example. When I graduated college and Caroline and I got married, we had tons of plans for how we wanted to travel the world and start businessess and be location independent. So, what did we do?

We got a mortgage and bought a house with help from my grandparents.

Seriously. While I am bound and determined to turn it around and make the whole thing come out profitable in the end, I am amazed at how bad of a decision that was.

Our goal was to travel the world, so the very first thing we do after getting married is saddle ourselves with mortgage debt and chain ourselves to a house. I’m going to plea temporary insanity on this one.

Really, if you ask me now why we made that decision, it just seemed like the thing to do. I know that’s a ridiculous reason to buy a house, but that’s all I’ve got. Like I said, temporary insanity.

The point is that it’s really easy to get lost in the short-term and get pushed into what society expects you to do, rather than think in the long-term about what course of action will actually get you where you want to go.

We’re stuck now, because when buying the house we recieved a $16,000 tax credit. If we sell the house before two years time, we have to pay the government back the $16,000. We just can’t afford that kind of hit, and two years of mortgage payments works out to less than what we’d lose if we sold the house early, so we’re stuck with it.

Are we mad about our decision? No, not really. Sure, if we hadn’t bought it we would be closer to living our dreams – but it’s just one more hurdle making the fight to live life how we want a little more interesting. Wouldn’t be fun without a challenge, right?

Once you’ve figured out what you really want in your life – go for it!

It doesn’t matter if you look crazy or like a failure in society’s eyes, what’s important is that you’re following your dreams.

Posessions Vs. Experiences

When it comes down to it, a lot of the clashes between what society wants you to do to be successful and what you want for your life are an issue of possessions vs. experiences.

Society largely places its value in posessions. You should have a big house, a nice car, a fancy TV, and lots, and lots, and lots of expensive stuff. Society assigns value to a person largely based on what they own.

I value experiences. I’m of the opinion that life isn’t about what you own or how expensive it was, it’s about what you do. It’s about the people you meet, the places you see and the experiences you share with all the people you care about.

You don’t have to live your life the way you’re told to live it. Stop what you’re doing, take a look around, and start living the way you want to live.

We’re on Google Plus!

Just a quick update, we are now on Google Plus. We’re still kind of figuring out how best to use it, since both Caroline and I have accounts, we’re not sure if we should have people follow us both, and post updates through both, or if that would just be cluttered and annoying for our readers.

So, for the time being, we’ve decided to just have all the Road to Epic updates be sent out through my account, which you can find here: Adam Wik on Google Plus.

You can follow me on there for all the Road to Epic updates, as well as some extra goodies from time to time.

Happy Independence Day!

Fireworks in front of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument by WilliamMarlow

Happy Independence Day everyone.

We just wanted to have a quick post today to wish everyone a happy 4th of July. Whether or not you’re from the United States, or whether or not you’re fond of the United States even, today is a day to celebrate freedom – something I think everyone is in favor of.

In the end, everything we’re working toward on Road to Epic has to do with freedom; the freedom to live our lives how we want, the freedom to follow our dreams and not have to conform to what society insists is best for us. So today, whether you’re an American citizen or not, take some time to think about your own freedoms. It might be freedom from debt you’re looking for, or maybe you’re ready to declare your independence from your soul-crushing dead end job – in the end it’s all founded on the same principle, we all have the right to live how we choose to live.

On a quick side note, the posting schedule may be a little irregular in the next few weeks due to some family holiday obligations, although we’ll do our best to post from the road. We’ve got several big Road to Epic projects we’re working on as well, but we’re not to going to let it interfere with our posting schedule if we can help. Keep watching for more updates on what we’ve got planned.

In the meantime, take some time to relax, have fun with your family and friends, and think a little about the ways you can make your life a little more independent.

Happy 4th of July everyone!

Fluent in 6 Months Challenge: Success!

Update: I’ve since written a more comprehensive article on specifically what we did in our Korean study to meet our 6 month challenge, you can read that update here.

It’s now the 20th, which means that yesterday marked exactly 6 months from the day we set out on our fluent in 6 months challenge. So how did it work out? Um, did you notice the title…. Success!

So, let’s run through the criteria we set in the original challenge and see how we’ve managed.

  • Production – At this point, we’ve been able to have several conversations with native speakers, both verbally and written, in-person and over the computer. This, in my opinion, is the biggest triumph. We’ve chatted about a fairly wide range of topics, from food to politics to lots in-between and our longest conversation so far lasted for about an hour. That full hour of no English whatsoever is what I consider the biggest achievement. We understand most of the contractions/slang that we run into most frequently. We still run into words we aren’t familiar with, particularly in new topics, although since the meanings can be explained to us in Korean a raised eyebrow and cocked head usually are enough for the person to explain what we missed.
  • Written Comprehension – Our written comprehension is on par with our speaking level. We can get the meat of pretty much every news story we read, though each usually has at least a word or two we’re not familiar with (remedied by a quick dictionary check). Nearly all of our news has come in Korean for the past few months, though we didn’t get nearly as much of it before our 1,000 word challenge. We’ve also been working through a few books we picked up during our 2007 Korea trip. I feel confident I could pick up just about any book in Korean and read it without a dictionary and at least get the general idea.
  • Listening Comprehension – Lastly, listening comprehension. Like I said in the Production section, we’ve had more than a handful of spoken conversations. At this point we have no trouble understanding most people at a normal (that is to say, really fast feeling) rate of speech. We have had some trouble with a few of the southern dialects we’ve hit – particularly one person from Jeju, but other than that there have been no real snags. We’ve also been able to start watching Korean TV shows (something we did even before we started learning) without the use of English subtitles. Again, we don’t get everything, and sometimes a pause or two are required to reach for a dictionary, but overall we don’t have any problems in that department either.

    So, like I said before, big success overall. I’m compiling everything we did that I think worked, and everything we did that I think was a waste (though it’s looking like it may be several posts worth) so keep an eye out for those coming soon!

How To Make Progress Without Even Really Trying

Path of Least Resistance by Billtacular

It's all about finding the path of least resistance.

Every living thing on Earth is really, really lazy – and you and I are no exception. There’s a good reason for it too, food and water can be hard to come by for species without supermarkets. Even we had to be concerned about finding enough food before about 10,000 years ago. Several billions of years of punishing any and all inefficiency shaped pretty much all life into remarkably efficient things and have hardcoded one basic tenet into all organisms – take the path of least resistance.

When you have limited amounts of energy to expend it just makes sense. If you burn up more energy to catch dinner than you take in by eating it, you’re just not going to last very long. Taking the path of least resistance meant using the least amount of energy necessary to achieve your goals. In the past, that meant effiency. Efficiency meant survival. Everything worked great.

Fast forward to now. Once we came up with agriculture, we set in motion the outsourcing of all our efficiency problems to technology. We don’t have to chase down a rabbit to get enough calories to keep our body working, or wrestle an elk to the ground to feed our family. We walk to the fridge, open it, and can eat more food in a sitting than our ancestors got in a week.

We just don’t have to worry about being efficient anymore, in fact, technology has made our lives so comfortable we have to purposefully do things that are inefficient from a survival standpoint to not get fat. If you tried to articulate to a person from 50,000 years ago that you go out and run around because you get too many calories each day then you better be wearing a poncho because their heads would probably explode with how ridiculous that is.

Times may have changed, but we haven’t – 10,000 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale. Less than a blink, really. If all of human history were one 24 hour period, agriculture would be discovered around 11:58 at night. We are still the same as our ancestors were back when dinner meant killing something twice your size and exercise meant keeping out of a Smilodon’s stomach.

That means that the proclivity for taking the path of least resistance is still alive and well within us. The problem is, it’s just not necessary anymore. It used to be the key to survival, now technology is. Embittered by its obsoleteness, that drive to take the path of least resistance now chooses to manifest itself as an affliction endemic to modern life, motivation-sapping laziness.

You know the feeling. You should go work out, but you really just don’t feel like it. You need to clean up your desk, reoganize your office, and tackle that stack of papers, but you can just worry about it later. You could be learning a new language, practicing Parkour, or working on starting your own business – but that’s hard, and improving your life can wait, you’re almost to the part where you fight Ganondorf.

So How Do You Fix It?

Good question. Thankfully, it’s easy to do. Even better, you won’t just be fixing the problem, you’ll be using the problem against itself to achieve your goals even faster. That’s a personal-development irimi-nage right there.

Step one is to identify and understand the problem itself. Here it is, you have a natural inclination chiseled into your brain to always favor the path of least resistance. That path tends to be the lazy one that leads you away from your goals and toward self-destructive, time-wasting activities.

Step two is to determine what about the problem we can change to remedy it, and the best way to make those changes. Now, some people might jump to the willpower fix. Sure, it may be easy to say, “Well, I’ll just fight it. Tough it out! I can make myself be productive!”

That may work for a bit, but there’s two problems. The first is, you have a finite amount of willpower. Eventually, it’s going to run out and you’ll be right back where you started. That’s just not sustainable. Secondly, you’re talking about fighting your very nature, here. There are some battles you should just avoid in the first place and fighting your base instincts like that is one of them.

So what can we change then? Look at things a slightly different way. The problem isn’t that you have a tendency to take the path of least resistance. The problem lies in where you wind up when you take that path. So what would happen if you redirected things and >made the path of least resistance go to where you wanted to wind up?

Rather than be naturally inclined to do things that work against you, you’d be inclined to do things that further your goals. That means you can get more productive things done without even really trying.

Step three is all about implementing it. This may take some creativity, but it’s usually not too difficult. Determine what things you can change (they’re usually little things) that will make it easier for you to do what you need to do than to do something that wastes time. It doesn’t just have to go one way either, like Caroline mentioned when she wrote about barriers, you can do the opposite and make it extra hard to engage in negative behaviors.

When you start putting these techniques into proactice, you’ll find yourself doing the things you need to be doing without even thinking about it. Before too long, you’ll find yourself progressing towards your goals without having to put in any extra effort.

I prefer ‘show’ over ‘tell’, so let’s look at some examples.

  • Pre-Arrange Your Workout – Have trouble going out in the morning for sprint training, heading down to the gym or going downstairs for a bodyweight strength training session? Get everything ready the night before. Lay out your gym clothes wherever you normally get dressed in the morning, have your shoes and your keys next to them ready to go if necessary. That way there’s no excuse not to get right in your exercise clothes and get started.
  • Freeze Your Credit Card – This is a really old one, but it’s still an excellent example. If you have issues controlling yourself when it comes to using the credit cards, drop it in a container of water and freeze it. That way, it’s a serious pain to pull it out and use it and you’ll only do it if you really need to.

  • Clean Your Fridge – Anyone who’s tried to lose weight knows struggling with temptation is brutal. So, why even let yourself be tempted? Donate all your junk food to people who can’t afford food in the first place, and stock your fridge and pantry with good, primal foods. That way, when you get hungry and go digging through the fridge, you only have good options. If you want to eat garbage, you’re going to have to go out of your way to do it and, chances are, you just won’t bother.

All these are just the obvious examples. If you’re creative, you can find tons of ways to make doing what you need to do easier, and doing what you shouldn’t be doing harder. If you’ve had any success with this, let us know how you did it! The options really are endless.

Complacency Is Your Enemy

Sleeping Puppy by Richard Stowey

Don't get too comfortable - there's always room for improvement.

My philosophy in life has always been one of optimism. The bedrock of this optimism is largely a well-developed sense of appreciation of everything I have. I understand that life is fleeting and that I am beyond fortunate not only to live in a developed, first-world nation where something like access to clean drinking water is a given let alone the fact that I’m alive at all.

This sense of gratefulness is like a search lamp, the brilliant beam of which I can shine on my problems to view them in a proper light – a light that reveals how petty it really is for me to bothered by most misfortunes. Unfortunately, the brighter the light the darker the shadow it casts and that sense of appreciation is no different. That dark shadow is complacency.

Complacency is the direct nemesis of ambition. Unfortunately, it seems now so many people who advocate being grateful and not taking what you have for granted also push its poisonous side-effect as if it were an added virtue.

I’ve heard it a million times, “Why worry about working so hard for more? You should be grateful for what you have.” or maybe “Don’t be greedy, be happy where you are with what you’ve got.”

On the surface, this kind of sounds like good advice. Half of it is. You should be happy with what you’ve got and not take it for granted. You also shouldn’t let it bother you too much if you don’t have something you want.

The problem is, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try to get it.

Let’s say you’re stuck in a dead end job that makes you miserable. Those people would tell you you’re selfish for wanting more than that and should just accept it and be happy. That is ridiculous. Taking that advice and embracing complacency won’t make you happy and will just leave you with a mountain of regrets on your deathbed. Not a good idea.

I say that yes, you should be grateful even for your dead end job and you shouldn’t let it destroy your mood. However, and this is the key part, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your situation. It just means that while you try to improve your situation you shouldn’t allow the current one to bother you so much.

You should always, always be trying to improve some area of your life. I’ve said this several times before and it’s not going to be the last time you hear it from me, but the truth is none of us have very long to live. You shouldn’t just be happy for every moment you get, you should also be trying to make the next one even better.

In the end, it comes down to finding the right balance. If you’re not grateful enough, you can burn away your whole life always trying to get and do more and never have actually had the chance to enjoy any of it. If you’re too complacent, you can settle into a life that ultimately will never make you as happy as it could have. Either way your short flash of existence is squandered and that is a tragedy in the strongest sense of the word.

It’s like the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That suggests you should just take what life gives you. You should take what life gives you but you should also add some work to it to make what life gives you even better. I say, “When life gives you lemons, go to the store and buy some sugar and vodka and sell that lemonade so you can go get something you actually want.”

Of course, my version doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well…

Have anything to add to my mild rant about complacency? Let us know!

How To Remember Anything Forever with Memory Hooks

At Rest by DigitalART2

Now you can learn to never forget too.

I have always had a serious problem with remembering things.

I forget people’s names after I meet them. I could never memorize any vocabulary in foreign language classes. I forgot to do my homework. I forget everyone’s birthday. Sometimes, I walk into a room and can’t even remember why I went in there in the first place.

It’s kind of a big problem.

Or at least, it was a big problem until I figured out a nice little trick to chisel anything I need to remember into my brain, with only a half-second of effort. Now, I can read a vocab word, hear someone’s name or be presented with an interesting bit of information just once and never forget it.

So what’s the big trick?

Tapping Into Emotional Memory with Memory Hooks

What does emotional memory mean? To simplify it a bit in order to not get too bogged down in psychology and neurology stuff, there are several ‘levels’ to our brains. To generalize a bit, the really analytical stuff, math, logic, language etc. all happens in the higher, newer levels of your brain. All of the more subconscious stuff, emotions, impulses, desires, heart and breathing regulation & long-term memory, for example, are down on the lower, more primal levels of your brain.

Now, if you’re like me in the past, you try to memorize something by activating those higher levels of the brain. Usually by sitting and repeating it over, and over, and over until it is drilled into your brain. The problem is our brains don’t really like that.

Our brains may be built to hold a lot of information, but when it comes to living things efficiency is always the rule. This is one reason people like taking the path of least resistance. Our brains are no different, they don’t want to just suck up every last tidbit of information and store it forever, that would be inefficient. Your brain only likes to store things that matter.

Sure, to you, all those words on your vocab list do matter. To your brain though, not so much. Your brain really only wants to store information in the long term that it knows will really impact your life. For instance, it’s not necessary to remember for twenty years that there were exactly 134 tiles in the back-splash of your parents’ kitchen when you were a child. It is important to remember that planting your hand firmly on the burner of a hot stove is a stupendously bad idea.

How does your brain tell which one of these things is important to file away for life? By the emotional response the event triggers.

Counting the number of tiles in your parents kitchen is likely to elicit no real emotional response – other than boredom which is anathema to our brains. Slapping your hand down on a hot burner, however, will trigger lots of emotions – pain, fear, excitement, possibly confusion. All of these emotions trigger the release of lots of chemicals in your brain, it knows it’s something really important and it remembers it.

Here’s a good test, which is easier to remember – an exciting, wonderful or traumatic event from your childhood, or what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday? Which memory is more vivid?

Unless you have a very unique brain, or a car crashed through your wall while you were having breakfast last Tuesday, the childhood memory is probably way easier to recall, even though it was so much farther in the past.

This is the reason why the old-school, repeat-it-10,000-times rote memorization method just doesn’t work. There’s no emotional attachment, other than boredom, so your brain just doesn’t want to hang on to that information.

The trick then is to find a way to make your brain form an emotional attachment to the information.

Hooking Up Your Memory

What’s the best way to form an emotion attachment to the info? Memory hooks.

A memory hook is a strong visualization of some kind that hooks a strong emotion into the memory of whatever information you’re trying to store. Essentially, you take whatever information it is, a name, a vocab word, a definition, whatever, and then come up with some kind of visual that reminds you of that piece of information.

The visual can be anything, though it needs to be as vivid and detailed as you can come up with, and needs to have some kind of emotion tied to it. Any emotion will work, although I usually go for humor since coming up with ridiculous situations is easier for me. Longer, more involved action sequences also tend to work better than isolated mental images too.

Rather than try to explain the process, I think it’s a little easier to just walk you through one I used during our Korean challenge to memorize the phrase ‘chalmokkesumnida‘.

Now, chalmokkesumnida is a phrase used to begin a meal, similar to ittedakimasu in Japanese on bon appetite in French. Since that was the case, I wanted to have some kind of mental image that tied into meals.

When I say ‘chalmokke’, to me it kind of sounds like ‘Chow Monkey’ in English. Now a Chow Monkey would obviously be some kind of monkey that brings chow. Alright, so far I’ve got a monkey bringing food to someone or something.

Next, the ‘sumnida’ part kind of sounds like ‘Suupa da’ or ‘It’s super’ in Japanese. So now, the people the monkey is bringing the food to speak Japanese. From there, I figure if anything is going to be super, it’s chow monkey. Ok. He’s now a food delivering monkey superhero, complete with a cape, mask, and big ‘C’ emblazoned on his chest delivering food to hungry people everywhere, or at least in Japan.

Now, we take it one step further. You have a hungry family all sitting around their breakfast table in Japan one morning, a father, mother, and two kids. There’s no food on the table, and one of the childrens’ stomachs growls loudly. Suddenly, Chow Monkey blasts through the wall like a furry, simian Kool-Aid Man and dumps a breakfast feast onto the table. There’s food from everywhere, it’s like all the buffets of the world rolled into a giant katamari of breakfast-deliciousness. Their eyes glistening in hunger, everyone at the table shouts ‘Chow Monkey suupa da!’ with joy and dives into the food as Chow Monkey soars away to save another hungry family.

Is that ridiculous? Sure. But now every time I sit down to eat, I think of Chow Monkey and ‘Chow Monkey suupa da’. From there ‘chalmokkesumnida’ flows right out.

Now, written out like this, it makes it look like an extremely involved process. Really though, all of this happens in a split second. Your brain comes pre-installed with a fantastic imagination, and it doesn’t take much thought to come up with something goofy like this. Chow Monkey was born a few seconds after sitting down to eat with some Korean friends.

It may seem silly, but next time you need to remember something give it a try. Before you realize it, whatever you were trying to memorize will be burned into your mind like the Banana Phone song. Just see if you don’t think ‘chalmokkesumnida’ next time you sit down to eat.

Have you had any success with this technique? Share some of your mental images and memory hooks in the comments!

Update: If you’re interested in learning more about memory hooks I discuss them and the above example in more detail along with other memory strategies in my book How to Learn 1,000 Words in 30 Days on Amazon Kindle.

Set Goals. Fulfill Your Dreams

Greatest Goal II by Scott Wills

Setting goal posts in your life is the best way to realize your dreams.

It is extremely difficult to achieve your dreams if you are a failure at setting goals.

As someone who always used to really, really hate planning and goal setting, believe me – it makes all the difference. I used to be of the opinion that setting goals just kind of got in the way. They were nice to have as a general reference point, but they weren’t important to the actual process of being productive.

Honestly, me feeling that way was probably largely a result of how terrible I was at setting proper goals. I was really terrible too. Being so awful at it made it even harder to achieve what goals I did set, which just made me more frustrated with goal-setting in general.

Eventually, I learned what I was doing wrong. I wasn’t S.M.A.R.T.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

Jokes about my general lack of intelligence aside, what I was missing out on was the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting. That’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Sticking to this method makes sure that your goals aren’t absolute failures like my old ones were. What does all that mean? Let’s take a look.

Specific

It is absolutely pointless to make goals if they are vague. Sadly, I didn’t realize that years ago when I was making goals like, “Exercise more”, “Lose weight” or “Make more money”. That’s like someone asking where you’re going and replying with, “To a building.” Technically, if your goal is “Lose weight” than you could drop half a pound and be done.

Goals must be specific to be worthwhile.

Change “Exercise more” to “Complete 3 strength training sessions per week” and “Lose weight” to “Lose 5 pounds per week” and you’ve got some specific goals.

Measurable

This should go without saying, but a goal that isn’t measurable isn’t really attainable. Even if it should go without saying, that didn’t stop me from setting ridiculous, unmeasurable goals in the past. Here’s a particular gem, “Get better at guitar”.

It boggles my mind at this point that I could set as stupid a goal as that and still be literate. Not only does it fail our first criteria by not being specific, how will you ever know when you hit ‘better’? Is better being able to play a bunch of scales, is better memorizing a song, is better rocking a Jimi Hendrix medly while blindfolded upside-down in a shark tank? Who knows?

If you don’t assign a quantifiable component to your goal, than there is no way to ever know when you reach it. Only a moron would make a goal that is, by its very nature, unreachable. Don’t be a moron.

So how would that nebulous, immesurable goal be improved? Well, how about, “Memorize three songs” or “Perform at least 2 songs in front of an audience”. Even, “Practice guitar for 1 hour 4 times per week” would have worked.

Attainable

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be ambitious. In fact, I’m all for setting big goals, since most people seem to really throw their all into something when it’s a really ambitious goal. Try to keep your goals ambitious but realistic. After all, setting a goal that is essentially impossible is about as futile a gesture as you can make.

Sadly, I don’t have any examples of my past stupidity to showcase for this part. My goals were always too vague to ever really be considered unrealistic. The key is dancing right on that line between ambitious and crazy. A blatantly unattainable goal like high-fiving the Queen of England or learning to communicate with algae via telepathy is pointless is one thing. A crazy sounding but attainable goal is another entirely.

My best advice is to use your gut to figure out if something is attainable or not, don’t always listen when other people call you crazy for it.

Relevant

By relevant, I mean relevant to your life. Your goals should be something that you are passionate about, that you have a reason for doing. When you’re committing to something to something to sit down and set some goals toward its completion, take a minute to think about your reasons for doing it.

If you honestly can’t think of any good reasons for setting the goal or for accomplishing what you’re setting the goal toward, then you’re probably not gonna care much about the goal.

For example, if your goal is to lose 30 pounds, then you better have a really good, relevant, personal reason for setting that goal. Whether it’s health, wanting to be able to do more active things or whatever. You need a reason.

If there isn’t a real, driving reason behind a goal then there’s no reason to stick to it.

Timely

Timely may be last, but that’s only because if the order was rearranged the acronym would be all messed up.

Not giving goals specific, timely deadlines is one of the biggest mistakes bad goal setters make. It may seem harmless, but “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

For those not familiar with Parkinson’s Law, this basically means that no matter how difficult a task actually is, work on it will fill however much time you set for it. If you set too distant of a deadline or, even worse, none at all than inevitably things will pop up to fill that space. Other projects with nearer deadlines will be moved to the front of your list, you’ll procrastinate, you’ll not know where to begin, you’ll fret about doing it properly, etc.

If you make your goal, “I want to lose 30 ponds by the end of the year” then there’s no real pressure to get started. You have the whole rest of the year! You can start working out tomorrow. In the end, you’ll probably put it off so long that you’ll never really commit to it in the first place.

If, on the other hand, we make that “Lose 30 pounds in 4 weeks” then you know the very same day you made the goal you would be giving all your junk food away, restocking the fridge with healthy food and probably going for a HIIT session. All because you know if you’re going to make your 4 week deadline, you need to be working now.

Using the S.M.A.R.T. method, I’ve been able to train myself to set goals that actually help me get where I want to go, rather than get in my way and demotivate me when I inevitable fall miles short of attaining them. Hopefully, it can do the same for you.

Have you had any success with the S.M.A.R.T. model, or do you use another goal setting technique? We always love to hear about other stuff that works.