A Beginner’s Guide to the Deadlift

First Deadlift by Oplotnik

Ok, when I said beginner's guide....

If you want to be as strong as possible, you need to include the deadlift in your training.

The deadlift is absolutely the second most important exercise for developing full body strength (the squat still being #1 in my book) because it engages every one of your muscles and works them with the heaviest loads possible. Deadlifts will not only make your entire body stronger, fix lower back pain, enhance your rate of force development (power) and dramatically increase your grip/wrist strength – they’ll also condition you to pick up heavy things with a straight back. That means next time you need to toss some bags of dirt around for landscaping or lift a flipped car off of someone, you won’t destroy your back.

So, how do we do it then?

How to Deadlift

  • Start from the floor – If you’re pulling the weight from the safety pins of the rack then it isn’t a deadlift. If you’re starting at the top then that’s a Romanian deadlift which, while an excellent exercise in its own right, is not the deadlift you’re looking for (had to resist the urge to wave my hand there). Th point is, the bar starts on the floor.
  • Center the bar above you feet – You want to stand with your feet a bit under the bar at a little narrower than shoulder-width. You’re going to want to give your arms enough room and if you stand too wide your legs will get in the way.
  • Grip the bar – Your arms should go straight down and grip the bar overhand (that’s palms facing you) with your shoulders directly over the bar. It helps to grip the bar hard and make sure that you don’t bend your arms – this is a deadlift not a curl.
  • Bend your knees – Not too much, but just enough that your shins touch the bar. You may have naturally assumed this position when grabbing the bar to keep your shoulders directly above it. Make sure not to lower your hips as much as you would for a squat, or you’re going to end up scraping your shins or hitting your knees on the way up.
  • Head up, chest out – Look straight ahead and keep your chest out so that your head stays inline with the rest of your spine. Your shoulders should be back and down, not squeezed together like for a squat. Keep your back straight.
  • Lift – Roll the weight a bit over your shins and knees keeping it close to your body until you get to the top position and your knees and hips are locked. Again, keep your back straight and once you get to the stop don’t lean back unless you hate your shoulders.
  • Rinse & repeat – To put the bar back down where it came from, start by pushing your hips back first. Start bending your knees after the bar passes them otherwise you’re going to hit them with the bar and that gets old quick. The bar should be resting on the ground before you start your next lift, don’t cheat yourself.

That’s all there is to it.

Common Questions & Problems

There are a handful of problems that people tend to have when first starting the deadlift. Additionally, because this is an exercise for serious people who actually want to get strong not just pretend they’re getting their money’s worth from that gym membership fee, people usually have a lot of misconceptions. I’ll try to address the most common ones.

  • Won’t deadlifts destroy my back? – The short answer, no. The long answer, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO. In fact deadlifts are an excellent exercise for reducing lower back pain because they strengthen the muscles of your back and the entire posterior chain. As long as you maintain proper form deadlifts will alleviate back pain, not cause it.
  • My shoulders hurt after doing deadlifts. – You are probably leaning back at the top of your deadlift, or are pinching your shoulders on the way up like you would for squats. Keep your shoulders back and down and at the top of the lift don’t lean back.
  • I keep smacking my knees/shins with the bar! – If you’re knees are getting bruised chances are you’re bending them too early as you’re putting the weight back down. Start lowering by pushing your hips backward and don’t bend your knees till the bar passes them. If your shins are the part getting mangled, it’s likely you have your hips too low at the start of the lift. Raise them up a bit, but keep your shoulders over the bar and your back straight.
  • Some guy I met at the gym says deadlifts are a terrible exercise and/or are dangerous. – I don’t want to get into one of those ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ arguments… but they’re wrong. Deadlifts are completely safe provided you maintain proper form.

That’s all you need! Go get started! If you have any questions about proper technique or have hit any problems that weren’t covered share them in the comments and we’ll do our best to help out!

Photo Credit: Oplotnik

The Biggest Mistake in Learning a Language: Studying

Study Study by Lethaargic

Think studying for hours is the best way to learn a language? Guess again.

Tons of people every year decide they want to learn to speak a second language and every year they inevitably decide to do the one thing that will guarantee that they’ll never be successful – they study that language. I’ll pause for a second to allow for shocked gasps….

I know it seems counter-intuitive – particularly in a culture that forces everyone to spend at least the first 18 years of their lives constantly studying things – but the only way you can do more harm to your goal of fluently speaking a language than studying it is to never start learning at all. Thankfully, there is an easy way to reach fluency and it doesn’t involve countless hours slaving over a textbook, slamming your forehead into mile long vocab lists or parroting back sentences off of a CD.

What is it? We’ll get to that shortly. First, I want you to meet Maria.

Maria’s English Exasperation

Maria was a student I had as an ESL teacher a while back. To be polite I’ve changed her name, but Maria held a very high position in the Venezuelan branch of a large international corporation and had been studying English for years. The problem was, she still couldn’t speak it.

Maria had spent four years studying English at a university in Venezuela, one year at an English school in Scotland and another six months on top of all of that at a language school in Houston. Add in all of her self study with textbooks and the like and Maria had spent a lot of time studying English.

When she finally arrived at the language school I was teaching at, she was honestly a little bitter. She felt like no matter what she did she could never learn English. Coming to our school was her very last attempt – if Maria couldn’t make it work here, she was ready to give up entirely. In fact, she almost gave up before that when she saw the score she got on her placement test – 10%.

So, what did Maria have to show for her years and years of studying English? Well, she had a fantastic command of the grammar – but only explicitly. If you asked Maria to tell you the first-person-conditional-future-perfect-progressive form of ‘fly’, she’d reply with ‘If I will have been flying.’ Fantastic. If you asked her what she did yesterday, she might say, ‘Yesterday I go at restaurant in 4th street and have eat a dinner.’ Not so fantastic.

All those years spent studying meant she had a huge vocabulary and knew tons of grammar, but had never practiced actually using any of it. She could tell you want the subjunctive form was, but couldn’t make small talk. She knew the definitions of words like equivocate and transliteration, but had serious trouble ordering a latte. Obviously, this caused her lots of frustration.

So what made all of those years of language study practically useless to Maria? She, and I assume all of the teachers she had studied under previously, had been treating English as if it were a set of facts to be memorized. They forgot that speaking a language is a skill. See, language is like juggling.

Language = Juggling

Bear with me here.

Imagine, for a moment, that you have to individuals with the same goal; to be world class jugglers. Person A does exactly what Maria did. He gets every book he possibly can on juggling, he watches tons of videos on juggling, he enrolls in a prestigious juggling college and attends hundreds of lectures on the finer points of juggling physics, gravitational theory and detailed breakdowns of advanced juggling techniques.

Person B doesn’t bother with any of that. He grabs two oranges off the kitchen counter, and starts trying to juggle. Of course, for the first few weeks a lot of fruit finds itself bouncing on the floor or off the surprised head of Person B. He keeps at it though, and does his best to juggle every day, even if only for a minute or two.

After one year, who would you bet is a better juggler – Person A who did more reading than juggling, or Person B who never read a thing and juggled all the time?

Learning a language is no different. If you want to speak a language you practice speaking a language. You don’t wait until you’ve learned some grammar, or developed a ‘big enough’ vocabulary whatever that is, you start speaking from day one.

How did things turn out for Maria?

The very first day, after I saw her placement test and she related her history of frustration, I threw her grammar book right out the window. Not literally of course, the school frowns on the defenestration of school materials, but we spent the next two weeks talking. Just talking. Any topic I could come up with, we discussed. We read the newspapers and talked about the articles. We watched videos on my phone and chatted about them. For 4 hours a day, for two weeks straight, we talked endlessly. Every time she would make a mistake in her speech I would correct her and write down the proper sentence in her notebook.

By the end of those two weeks, Maria had made more progress in her ability to speak English than she had made in a decade’s worth of study.

Go Practice

If your goal is to speak another language fluently, stop studying and go speak! Don’t worry about making mistakes or not knowing enough words, just practice, practice, practice. I promise you it will do more to help you meet your goals than anything else you can do.

Has anyone else found themselves in a situation like Maria’s? Do you completely disagree and think that language study is the key to fluency? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Photo Credit: Lethaargic

3 Free Online Resources You Can Use to Learn Any Language

Working Lat(t)e by Kuba Bozanowski

Internet required. Coffee optional.

I used to be a rabid consumer.

Maybe it was the fault of the culture, maybe it was because I’m also a raving bibliophile and it meant acquiring more books, maybe it was because I felt like I had to spend money to make any progress – whatever the reason, when I first started learning Japanese I threw paycheck after paycheck at the problem at the bookstore.

Any book, software or audio set that promised to have me speaking Japanese in no time at all got whisked off to the checkout line. Naturally, after having spent several hundred dollars on language courses, I was speaking fluent Japanese by the end of a few weeks right?

Yeah, you know better. All that stuff didn’t get me anywhere.

The truth is, you don’t need to spend a dime to learn a new language. Caroline and I successfully completed our entire 6 month Korean fluency challenge without purchasing a single thing. One of the main keys to our success was our use of three particular websites.

These three websites are all free to sign up and use and, best of all, can be used to learn any language as long as someone else out there speaks it.


The first resource is Lang-8.com – a free community of language learners where you can post journal entries in the language you’re learning and then have them corrected by native speakers.

After signing up for a free account, you write posts in your target language and correct the posts of people learning your native language. Easy.

Are you an absolute beginner and don’t even think you know enough to make a single post? No problem! Find some recent entries written in your native language by people who speak your target language and correct them. Before long, you’ll start getting friend requests (Caroline received around 70 in our first week using it).

Most of the people who send you a friend request are also learning your native tongue and would be more than happy to exchange Skype info. You teach them a little English, they teach you the basics of their language and most of the time you form a new, genuine friendship.

Everybody wins.

You’re not limited to reading your own posts either. You can go dig through tons and tons of posts written in your target language by other people and then corrected by native speakers. Not that you should have any shortage of reading material, what with the Internet and all, but it’s a good option if you’re bored of reading news and blogs in you target language.


Text is great, but if you want to be able to actually speak a new language you’re going to need to know a thing or two about pronunciation too. That’s where Rhinospike.com comes in.

Rhinospike has a similar community structure to Lang-8 – except instead of native speakers correcting the grammar in your entries they record themselves reading the text aloud and then post the recording up on the site.

Used in conjunction with Lang-8, that means you can not only get your entries’ grammar corrected, but also download a free recording of a native speaker reading it. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a large selection of recordings other people have had done that you can browse through and download.

There are a ton of potential uses for this. The most obvious is that you can have a native speaker reading your posts to compare your pronunciation to, but there are so many more. You can post articles, short book excerpts, news stories, vocab lists, all sorts of things and then download them to your iPod or whatever to always have native audio to listen to. You can write out little dialogues and then pretend that you’re one of the speakers, answering the questions rather than parroting back what the recording says. You can even record yourself on your computer right after the native speakers recording and compare to dial in on speaking with a native accent.

The pre-recorded library is, on it’s own, a fantastic resource even if you don’t request anything recorded for yourself. Glancing at it now there are 380 recordings in the Korean section. One of those is the first 633 of the most common words in Korean, and another is 310 of the most common verbs in Korean. If you’re looking for some good listening comprehension practice rather than worrying about pronunciation, just jump around to random recordings and see if you can figure out what they’re saying.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could download all the recordings to load onto your MP3 player and then just put it on shuffle.


I’m trying not to use the ‘last but not least’ cliche, but it fits here. Couchsurfing.org is the single best free resource available for learning a second language.

The key to learning a new language is, has been and always will be speaking it with native speakers. I guarantee you after one month a person who spends an hour per day chatting in their target language with a native speaker will speak better than a person who spends five hours per day digging working through textbooks. Couchsurfing provides a fantastic way to meet new friends who speak your target language.

There are three main options for how to go about doing this. The first is to travel. Unless you already travel a lot, or want to travel a lot, this will probably be the least useful to you. All you have to do is search by language spoken next time you’re looking for a couch to stay on while traveling. Tell the person up front that you’re learning their native language and would like to practice a little while you’re staying with them if that’s ok. Don’t expect them to give you an intensive course or anything, this is free remember, but usually people are more than happy to help.

The second option is to host people who speak your target language when they’re traveling to your city. Again, be upfront when responding to their couch request and let them know that you’re learning their language and would like to practice a little if they don’t mind. Chances are, they’ll want an opportunity to practice their English with you too.

The third option is to just do a search in your own city and then send a nice message to a native speaker in your area who has marked that they’re open to meeting for coffee that you’re learning their native language and would be interested in meeting sometime to chat about it. Not everyone will be interested, and some people may just chat with you over Skype instead, but you can often find someone who is cool with meeting up to chat.

Now, when traveling or hosting, don’t expect the person to spend a long time coaching you and giving you lessons, unless you’ve already agreed on something like that beforehand. The focus of the site is still to travel and meet new people, so if you’re hosting remember that your guest probably has things they want to do and see and if you’re traveling remember that your host has a life.

The real magic, in my opinion, happens long after you or your guest has left. In my experience, when you stay with someone or host someone in your house, you tend to wind up becoming friends. Not to cheapen the relationship, because I think the friendship is more valuable in the end than the end goal of learning a new language, but having a friend who speaks a language you’re trying to learn is the greatest way to make tons of progress quickly.

Have you used any of these resources in the past? Are there any others that you think I should have included? Share them with everyone in the comments!

Photo: Kuba Bożanowski

Why We Will Never Buy Another Physical Book. Ever.

We used to own a lot of books.

We used to own a lot of books.

All our lives Caroline and I have been rabid bibliophiles. When I was little I read through all the books that had been bought for me and was so fervent about needing something else to sate my hunger for literature my mom caved and let me devour her collection of novels – a decision that led to 1st grade book reports on titles such as Cujo and Eaters Of The Dead accompanied by slightly concerned teachers.

I am the kind of person who would have to be dragged from my house if it caught fire while I happened to be reading. My tendency to bury my nose in books while walking has lead to countless Mr. Magoo style near escapes, some of them humorous others genuinely coming close to finishing my life before I could finish the book.

Understandably as a result of our combined bibliophilia we have amassed a fairly large collection of books.

In the wake of going over our goals for our annual review process we realized that owning all of those books encumbered us more than they helped us.

That’s a problem.

One of our biggest goals is to be able to travel and travel constantly. We want to be able to head off for foreign lands and not come back ‘home’ for months or even years at a time. Maybe not quite as long as Benny’s 8 years and counting of constant travel, but something pretty close. Once we begin traveling we intend to put our current house up for rent (I don’t want to make payments on a house I won’t be staying in), so we would have to find somewhere to store everything we wanted to keep until we returned and found a new place to stay.

It just doesn’t make sense to have boxes and boxes of books that we have to find some place to store while we travel. As a result we’ve come to a decision that has shocked most of our friends and family.

We’re selling all of our books.

Or at least, almost all of them. There are a handful we do want to keep long term, a handful of reference books that we still get regular use out of and a collection of cookbooks that we aren’t finished digitizing yet. We’ve also decided to never buy another physical book.

Instead, we’re switching entirely over to digital copies. So far, we’ve gotten rid of a little over 150 of our physical books and replaced them with digital copies.

Why Switch to Digital?

There’s still a lot of argument back and forth about whether digital really is better than a physical, paperbound copy. I’m not going to argue one way or the other for everybody, but for our situation digital is a lot better and here’s why.


Portability is easily the biggest factor influencing our decision to go all digital. With our iPhones and with Google Books, we can take our entire book collection with us everywhere we go. That means that if I get the urge to read an old favorite while I’m halfway around the world, I can. It also means I don’t have to worry about storing all the books that I have somewhere here in the States. After all, I’d need to either impose on a relative or friend to put up the space for all our boxes of books or we would need to pay for a storage container.

It’s the information in the books that’s important, not the hunks of wood pulp themselves.


If I had only physical copies of my books and a tornado came through and demolished everything or there was a fire or whatever, those books would be gone for good.

Sure I could salvage some of them, or make a list for the insurance company and try to re-purchase all the books I had lost, but with the volume of books we own that would be ridiculously difficult. I would have bigger things to worry about than getting all of my books back of course, but the fact is the task of getting them all back would be slow, tedious and expensive.

On the other hand, all of our e-books are backed up remotely. If everything I own gets destroyed, I at least know that as soon as I can get back on a computer or an iPhone all of my books will be there waiting for me. A small consolation perhaps in the face of having all of your worldly possessions obliterated, but a nice one nonetheless. Even our PDF books are backed up both remotely on web servers and locally on external drives.

Of course, I’ve had people argue with me that those precautions aren’t as secure as having the actual book in your hands. They say that iTunes or Google could get wiped and we would have no way to prove we owned all of those books. That’s true – but which happens more often, houses burning down or all of Apple’s servers getting wiped? Thought so.


I am constantly, constantly finding myself referring back to certain books. We have about a 50/50 split of fiction and informational titles. Usually, after we’ve finished an informational book, it takes a little while for everything to sink in – that means lots of referring back to the text.

I have probably wasted so much time digging through indices, tables of contents, appendices, etc. looking for that one paragraph that I can’t quite remember or that one key sentence that is escaping me that ties the whole idea together. If you’ve not experienced this, believe me, it is maddeningly frustrating.

Digitized books come with a search bar.


E-Books are buzzword approved! Wait, is ‘sustainability’ even a buzzword anymore? Whatever. The point is, millions of trees died so that young girls and middle-aged women could swoon over an insipid love triangle between a vampire, a werewolf and an angst-filled, whiny teenage girl.

That saddens me a little.

A book’s value lies in the information it contains, not in the number of tree carcasses that were ground into a pulp and flown thousands of miles to produce it. If the information can be had without arboreal martyrdom, why kill the trees?

It just seems silly to me at this point, when there is a clear, simple alternative, that anyone would want to burn tons of oil to cut down thousands of trees and then burn more oil to process those dead trees into books which are then shipped over huge distances to get to you. I’m not saying e-books are perfect, I plug my phone and computer into the wall to charge to read those e-books and the servers that hold them all plug in, meaning somewhere oil or coal is likely burned to keep them going. Overall though, I think digital causes less harm.


Equally important, to me anyway because I’m kind of a cheapskate, is that e-books on average are a lot cheaper than the old paperbound ones. It makes sense that they should be, given what we just mentioned about sustainability. Cutting down and processing trees, not to mention all the shipping both of materials and of the finished product to distribution centers and stores is really expensive.

All of that expense is passed on to you when you buy the book. Just paying for some data, the information that gives real value to the book in the first place, without all that extra processing is a lot cheaper because it cuts out all that extra work.

Do you really want to pay extra, just so you can get your information in a form that has become largely outdated? You could always get all your books inscribed into stone tablets instead.

For all of these reasons, we’ve decided to ditch all of our books and never buy another physical one again. What do you think though? Are these good enough reasons for you, or do you think we missed the mark somewhere?

Photo: Natalia Osiatynska

My Goals for This Year – A Piece of My Annual Review

Goal Setting by AngieTorres

It's important to have yearly goals to work toward.

Every year Caroline and I have an annual review. (Well, actually twice a year but we’ll get to that in a second.) First, if you don’t know what an annual review is, then please go read ‘How to Conduct your Own Annual Review’ by Chris over at The Art of Non-Conformity. Honestly, even if you’re familiar with annual reviews, go read the article again first – it’s one of the most useful posts on Chris’s site and considering the quality of the rest of his stuff that’s high praise. Really, go read it. I’ll wait.

All done? Cool.

So where do we come back in? Well, Caroline and I do things a little bit differently. Due to all the holidays, and a small horde of binding familial obligations encircling the New Year, I’ve found it’s just not practical to conduct our big annual reviews at the end of the year.

On top of that, while I like Chris’s structure of one big review at the end of the year and quarterly reviews at each season, I see my year beginning on my birthday. I first started circling the Sun on August 6th, 1987 – so that’s when I figure my years should begin.

Of course, the concept of a year is largely an arbitrary thing, blah blah blah, subjectivity, human perception of time, I know. Like I said, the main reason is because I like to take my time on my annual reviews and that’s extra difficult around the New Year. I also feel like saying ‘I will accomplish [blank] before next year’ sounds like a doomed-from-the-start resolution, whereas ‘I will accomplish [blank] before I turn [age]’ sounds like a firm commitment. Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway. So far, we’ve mostly just gotten the past year’s successes and shortcomings mapped out as well as a general outline of our goals for the coming year. I won’t subject anyone to our full annual review, unless people really want to see it, but since this blog is as much about accountability on our part as it is about helping others live out their dreams I am going to post my goals here for everyone to see, divided into general categories.

This Year’s Goals

This list may change as the year goes on, and I’m not going to post the full list, just the highlights. With that in mind, here’s what I’ve got planned so far for what I’ll accomplish before I turn 25.

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.

There you have it. That’s most of what I have so far set to accomplish before my next birthday.

While it’s probably not your birthday, what are some of your goals for this year? Have you given it any thought? Share some in the comments!

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.

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.

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.