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.

Be Unreasonable: Live Life On Your Own Terms

Untitled by кофе

Dare to be unreasonable. Dare to pursue your dreams and goals!

What’s keeping you from pursuing your goals or dreams?

It’s a simple question that easily sparks the most knee-jerk angry replies. A lot of people try to reason it away with things like:

“Let’s be realistic, there’s no way I’ll ever do X”
or
“I can’t do X because I’ve not got the time or money – who does?!”

For lots of people, that is the reality they have created within their heads. They’ve conditioned themselves to an unsatisfactory life, one that will inevitably lead to either the deferment of happiness or worse, unhappiness for their entire lives.

Some people do have honest, good reasons as to why they cannot do whatever it is they want to be doing, whether it be losing weight, travel, or living debt free. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the number of people who have real reasons, and not just excuses, as to why they cannot pursue their goals/dreams is probably in the 1-5% of society range.

For many, it’s that they honestly have a lot of self-imposed (or society-imposed) limits and beliefs on how life should be lived.

The cold, hard truth of reality is something we’re conditioned to as citizens starting in childhood. Say, you want to explore the hidden catacombs underneath Paris or something else. You’ll soon be corrected, with “Cut it out. Be realistic and get some safe 9-to-5 and make a decent living.”

At any point in life, if you dare to stray outside the societal norms and do your own thing, people will try to be the “reasonable voice” in your life and keep you from achieving the things you want to do in your life. Dare to be unreasonable.

Others, they have simply chosen to spend their money on other things – like cars, every television station known to man combined with a gigantic HDTV, etc. going into debt for various luxuries.

I’m sure there’s lots of other reasons out there… But, here’s the good news: you can change it! There’s nothing forcing you to live a deferred lifestyle, except you.

The rules of life can be broken, all it takes is changing your perspective.

Take a good hard look at your life and consider what it is you want out of it, and consider what it is that will give you long-lasting happiness? What are your priorities? If you could do anything, be anything, or have anything, what would it be? What are the true costs of those things? If you don’t know, look them up.

The next step, is to figure out what it’s going to take to get there. Plan out what you’d have to do to achieve it. I guarantee you that as you continue this process, those crazy ideas look less and less crazy.

You might need to earn more

There’s lots of ways to earn more. You can start a business or maybe freelancing in your spare time.

Earning more can be difficult – so don’t quit your day job just yet. Find what suits you and your ideal lifestyle first and slowly build it in your free time. Test various aspects of it to optimize earnings to fill the gaps in your income. With dedication and hard work, it’s entirely possible to earn everything you need to live on your own without the help of a “real job.”

Surround yourself with a support team

There’s lots of naysayers out there that will tell you it’s not possible, and try to bring you down. Forget about them! Start a blog, join a local meet up of other like-minded people, whatever you need to do to find people who support you and have higher visions for their own lives, do it.

Have Courage

It takes a lot of guts to go against societal norms. It takes a lot just to look in the mirror and say “let’s do this!” If you’ve got a good plan then there wont be any ambiguity as far as what you need to do. Combine that with the right support team to cheer you on and the dedication to living life on your terms, and you can be an unstoppable machine.

Expect and embrace failures

Failure happens to everyone sooner or later. Some fail more than others. Accept and embrace it. Failures exist so we can learn what doesn’t work and to give us even more reason to succeed. Any more words on failure?

Handy Resources

Here’s two really great resources from two people I highly admire and respect. These are great tools to help get you started in planning your goals and ideal lifestyle, and to help execute them.

Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review: Chris’ Annual Reviews are an awesome way to create goals and plan out how you’re going to achieve them – as well as aid you in keeping on track.
Link: http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/how-to-conduct-your-own-annual-review/

Tim Ferriss’ Dreamline Worksheet: Create a “dreamline” to determine the characteristics and costs of your ideal lifestyle. List up to five things you dream of having, being and doing. This worksheet will help you calculate your ideal target monthly and target daily income. Chances are, it’s less than you think. Even if it does cost more than you currently earn, there are many ways (and many people!) for everyone to bridge that gap.
Link: http://www.technotheory.com/download/DreamlineWorksheet2.0.xls

You’ve got a limited time on Earth, and time is running out. Relentlessly pursue your goals and ideal lifestyle while you still can!

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.

Workouts for Wimps: Your First Real Pushup

The Art of the One-Handed Pushup by Andy Carvin

This baby can do a one-armed pushup - why can't you?

The pushup is one of the most timeless, absolutely essential bodyweight exercises there is. Along with squats and a few others, the pushup in some for or another is the foundation of every bodyweight strength training regimine out there – or at least every worthwhile one. If you want to get in shape, and you don’t have access to free weights, you better be able to do pushups.

So, what if you can’t?

What if you’re too weak or too overweight to do even a single standard pushup? No problem! There are lots of alternatives that you can use to work your way up to it. All of these have been tested and proven both by myself and Caroline. I was the kid that got laughed out of gym class for being too fat to do a single pushup, and Caroline was the yoga nut who weighed next to nothing but had never done a day of strength training in her life. Between the two of us, we know these should work for everybody.

Anyone can build the strength to do push ups if they follow the right progression. (Tweet this!)

The Staircase Progression

Staircase progressions are the method I used to get my 55 year-old mother, who I don’t think had even done one single pushup in her entire life, to get to the point where she was doing full sets of standard pushups on the ground. We’re not quite to one-armed pushups yet, but we’ll get there.

How it works:

All strength building works on the principle of progressively increasing resistance. Your body adapts, you up the resistance, it adapts again, etc. So if you’re not strong enough to do even one pushup, you need to start with something easier and work your way up to it progressively.

Making a pushup easier is all about physics. As excited as I get about physics, I’m not gonna go into details here – let’s just say the higher your head is in relation to your feet, the easier the pushup is and vice versa (this is also a handy way to increase the intensity, when you’re ready). A staircase provides a perfect platform to progressively increase the resistance on your pushups. You can find one just about anywhere, each step is equally spaced between the one above and below it, and you can easily measure your progress.

Start with your hands on the highest step you can reach with your arms straight out in front of you and your toes down on the floor touching the bottom step in a standard pushup position. Lower yourself to the stair as if it were the ground and you were doing a regular pushup. If the highest step you can reach is too easy, and chances are it will be even if you can’t do a single pushup on the floor, go down to the next step and repeat. When you finally hit a stair that’s low enough that you can’t do at least five pushups in a row, stop and take note of the stair one higher than that one.

That stair is where you’re going to start your actual workout. Now you may have an existing strength training routine, though if you can’t even do one pushup I’m guessing you don’t. If you do, you can work it around your pushup training routine which will be as follows – 3 days per week, with at least one rest day between each, you will do five sets of five pushups on the stairs. The first week you will start on the last stair that you were able to do five consecutive pushups on. The second week, you’ll move down one stair which you should then be able to do five consecutive pushups on. The following week you move down again. Eventually, you hit the floor – and I don’t mean from exhaustion – and can start doing pushups there.

Take a moment to congradulate yourself, and then get ready to start learning one-armed and handstand pushups…

Tips and Tricks

If you don’t have any other strength training routine, such as what might be included as part of a beginner’s fitness plan for example, then I would suggest taking around a 30 to 45 second rest between each set. That is, do five pushups, rest for 45 seconds or so, and then do another set of five. If you find that 45 seconds is too short, and you can’t do 5 full pushups with good form, then increase the rest time until you find your sweet spot.

If you find yourself requiring excessively long rest periods (2 minutes or more) then you may want to try an incidental training pattern. On your strength training days, everytime you go up or down the stairs stop and do one set of pushups. With the longer and more variable rest periods, you don’t have to worry about stopping at five total sets for a day, but do still give yourself the rest day. Then just bump down a step the following week like normal.

When doing the pushups, it helps the most if you lower yourself very slowly (count to 5 from top to bottom) and push back up very quickly (faster than you can count to 1). This will help build the necessary strength up as quickly as possible. Try not to rocket your upper body off the staircase. You can work your way up to plyometric and clapping pushups when you get to the ground.

Getting Negative

Don’t worry, I don’t mean mentally. In weight training, a negative is the part of the movement when gravity is doing most of the work – in our case, the part where you’re lowering yourself back toward the ground. Negatives are the way that I went from no pushups to handstand pushups.

How it works:

The negative is also called the eccentric contraction and, unlike eccentric relatives, is extremely beneficial and something you should get better acquainted with. A majority of the strength building activity in an exercise occurs during the eccentric phase of the movement. That means that if you just do that part, you can still get a majority of the benefits.

To do a negative pushup, you start at the top of the standard pushup position on the floor. Then, you lower yourself down as slowly as possible. Seriously, I want your arms shaking a little by the time you get to the bottom. Once you’re at the bottom, instead of struggle and fight and try to push your way back up with your arms, just get up. Yep, get back up on your hands and knees and put yourself in the top position and lower yourself down again. It’s that easy. If it seems like cheating, well, it kinda is – but it works.

Do five sets of five negatives three days a week with a day of rest between each training day and 30 to 45 seconds rest between sets. After one full week of training, try to work one single standard pushup into each set of negatives as the first rep. If you still can’t do it, increase each negative by five seconds, i.e., lower yourself five seconds more slowly with each rep, and try again for one pushup per set the following week.

Once you go a week of doing one full pushup in each set, go for two full pushups in each set for the next week. Keep increasing each week and before long, you’ll be doing five sets of five full pushups on the ground with no problem.

Tips and Tricks:

This method is pretty straightforward, so there aren’t really a lot of tips and tricks to it. If you’re concerned that you’re so weak you’ll get about halfway down the first negative and then plant your face into the floor like a scared ostrich, by all means put a pillow or rolled up towel between your face and the floor.

If you are having that much trouble with the negatives, you an also try the old fashioned knee pushups, where you use your knees as the fulcrum for the pushup instead of your toes. In my experiences, however, it’s hard to make the jump from knee pushups to standard pushups. What I did, back in my whale days, was to do negatives with my hands on a slightly elevated platform. In my case it was an office chair jammed up against the wall so it wouldn’t roll out from under me. A set of stairs, as mentioned above, makes a nice choice too. Anything stable that gets your hands a little higher than your toes will work.

There you have it – you now have no excuses for not being able to do pushups. Once you master this movement, you’ll be well underway to having the basics of bodyweight exercises under your belt. At least, until you decide your ready to go one-armed…

Anyone else have any helpful tips or tricks to add, or some other method they used to build up to standard pushups? We’d love to hear it!

5 Reasons to Never Follow Your Dreams

Prison Cell by Still Burning

Life should be safe and cozy - like a prison cell.

Let’s face it – life is scary. You have to wake up every morning and actually do stuff. There’s a lot of pressure there. You have to go out and slave away at your job everyday for money as the ticking of the clock beckons you gradually closer to the grave. It’s really kind of a bummer.

That’s why I say, don’t even worry about working that hard. The fact is, it’s not going to matter in the end. The best course of action is to just stay in whatever mind-numbing career you find yourself in now. Anything else would be too risky.

To help everyone realize how stupid it really would be to ever take a chance on anything, I’ve compiled this list of five really good reasons you should never quit you day job (or do anything else worthwhile).

  • Job Security – Being left without any real source of income, particularly when you have a family to provide for, is a really frightening prospect. Why would you want to fight and work hard for self-sufficiency and multiple streams of income when you can just settle into your nice secure career. As we all know, once you’re working for a company you’re stuck there – there’s no way anything could ever happen that would result in you losing your job for reasons beyond your control. With the economy so stable right now, there’s no reason to ever fear losing your job. It’s the perfect opportunity to put all the eggs you have into one safe, secure basket. Why be risky and chase your dreams, when you can take the safe route and crush them like everyone else.
  • Fulfillment – Fulfillment. It’s really, really overrated. You don’t need to feel fulfilled. You just need to think you feel fulfilled. Now, I hate to say it but your average 9 to 5 isn’t going to help you out any here. It’s soul-crushing nature is the whole reason you think you crave fulfillment anyway. No, the way to really fake fulfillment and be able to keep your job and pretend you’re really happy with life lies in one secret technique – video games. Pursuing genuine fulfillment is for suckers. Learning an instrument, traveling, bettering yourself? Come on. That takes work. Why would you want to do that when you can get a cheap proxy for that very same feeling by teaching your Sims to play piano, or raiding that new instance in WoW. If you need a little more, you can get fulfillment beamed right into your head by staring blankly at the television. This way, you can feel really proud about your accomplishments without ever having to actually accomplish anything at all!
  • Fitness – It’s for suckers! With the state of modern medicine, it will be no problem for them to keep you going in thirty or forty years when your heart finally gives out. They may even have the ability to replace it with machine parts by that point. Cyborgs! Yay! On top of that, what kind of moron really chooses to delay gratification? Sure, they’re pretty much guaranteed more satisfaction by eschewing the instant pleasures for the later ones, but what’s a guarantee anyway? Who wants to suffer now just to maybe live a decade or two longer? It may take a few years off your life, but having the pleasure of eating Big Macs everynight for a week straight is a small price to pay.
  • Consumerism – We all know that the real key to living a good life, aside from gorging yourself with fast food while playing videogames in your underpants all day, is to have lots and lots and lots of stuff. You need to have more stuff than your friends, you need to have more stuff than your family, you need to have more stuff than everybody. You need to have better stuff too. All that minimalism garbage everybody keeps talking about is just because they know they’re too poor to get as much stuff as you. Look at how happy all those people on Hoarders are. One or two may get buried in stuff-volanche from time to time, but that’s the price you pay for success. If you’re not buying shiny new stuff to push yourself into more debt everyday, well then you’re just a failure.
  • Freedom – People talk a lot about being free. The problem is, they don’t really know what being free means. They think it means being able to go where you want, and do what you want, whenever you feel like it. That’s not freedom! Real freedom comes when you have a whole bunch of stuff tying you to one place. Real freedom is having the choice whether to take your two weeks of vacation together, or separate. Real freedom is being able to choose whether to pay your mortgage on the due date, or before the due date. When you’re chained to a single job and anchored by the massive debt of a house that was way beyond what you can really afford buyoed by a nice cushion of credit cards, then you know what freedom is.

    So there you have it. Don’t chase your dreams, fill your life with faux-fulfillment from frequent TV watching and constant hours playing video games, leave fitness to the gym rats and bury yourself in a nice, safe burrow of debt lined with as many useless possessions as are necessary to make you feel more important than everyone else you know. That’s the real path to happiness.

Timeboxing 101: What, Why and How

The Passage of Time by ToniVC

With timeboxing, you can make the clock work to your advantage.

Timeboxing, or one of the many variations on it, is easily one of the best techniques for being more productive throughout the day. Timeboxing allows you to get the motivation up to do the things you don’t want to do, focuses your attention on the tasks that really need to be prioritized, stops you from wasting time on pointless tasks and makes Parkinson’s Law work for you. Oh, and I think it’s kind of fun too.

So what is timeboxing? Essentially, it’s taking a task and assigning a fixed period of time for its completion. Once you hit that time limit, you stop working and move on to something else, regardless of whether or not you actually completed your task.

How does quitting before we’re finished help? Well, let me show you.

Some Benefits of Timeboxing

Motivation

The first benefit of timeboxing is that it gets you rolling on daunting or unpleasant tasks. Think of something that you need to get done, but just can’t get the motivation up to do. Maybe it’s something huge like writing a 200 page thesis, maybe it’s something that you just really hate to do like clean out the garage, maybe it’s both.

When you’re faced with these kinds of tasks, most people’s natural inclination is to put it off. They procrastinate an do their best to avoid it, and waste a lot of valuable time in the process. The hardest step to take is always that first one.

Setting a timebox for these tasks removes that feeling of dread. For example, you could sit down and commit to working on your thesis for 30 minutes, after which you can go relax. Whether you write 5 words or 5,000 in that 30 minutes is irrelevant, as long as you sit and write for 30 minutes. Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so bad. 30 minutes is nothing, and its easy to sit down and start if you know you’ll only have to siffer through 30 minutes of work.

The same goes for my cleaning example. If you say you’re going to go work on cleaning the garage for an hour and then quit, it’s not too hard to commit to. You know you won’t be slaving away all day out there, and chances are even if you aren’t finished by the end of that hour you’ll have gotten a lot done.

Timeboxing also becomes a little bit of a game. It’s kind of like a race, or one of those really frustrating Super Mario levels where the screen moves to the right and you die if you go too slow. Trying to see just how much you can accomplish before that timer sounds is a really good way to get pumped about whatever you’re trying to work on. This is particularly great for tasks like cleaning that will need to be done again, because you can continually try to beat your previous best and accomplish more within that timebox.

Time Bandits

No, not the movie. The second benefit of timeboxing lies in managing time-sinks. A time-sink is more like a heatsink than a kitchen sink, in that it sucks up all of your time (although the visual of all your time going down the drain is a good metaphor for it too). Basically, anything that you are prone to spend way too much time on everyday is a time-sink.

Some very common culprits are checking e-mail, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and catching up on your RSS reader, but there are lots of others. Timeboxing this activities and having a set cut off time will not only force you from burning too much time away on them, but also help you speed up the task itself. If you only have 10 minutes everyday to process your inbox, before long you will have found every trick imaginable to make that process as speedy and efficient as possible.

Timeboxing relaxation and reward time can also help us not get too carried away when we take a break and need to get back to work. It’s cool if you want to take a little time to chill out and play a game or something, but when you completely lose track of time and spend 8 hours straight stabbing things in Azeroth, that tends to hurt your productivity a bit.

By setting a timebox, you can allow yourself to relax and play, but not run the risk of getting so carried away that nothing else gets done. Play for an hour, timer goes off, work for an hour or two, timer goes off, play for an hour, etc.

This also works for combating perfectionism. Being a perfectionist over things is like being a walking time-sink factory. If all you do is obsess over the details and fret about whether or not something is absolutely perfect before you consider it done then everything is going to take ages to finish. By putting things in timeboxes you force yourself to call it quits and consider something finished when your time is up, regardless of how well it’s done. It may hurt, but it’s for your own good.

Dining on Elephants

You know the old, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” saying. Honestly, it’s a little to cliche for me – but I have to admit it’s got a bit of a point. When you have some giant, monster task the best course of action is always to divide and conquer.

Timeboxing gives you the perfect way to do just that, since you can isolate a specific area of a project, devote a set amount of time to it, and then move on to the next area. Not only do you guarantee you won’t waste too much time on one specific area of the project, but you also break the whole thing down into tasty, manageable chunks.

Once you have the task divided up, progress will start accumulating incrementally and before you know it, you’ll be all finished. How easy is that?

Our Friend Parkinson

We’ve mentioned Parkinson’s Law a few times before – “Work expands to fill the time alotted for its completion.”

Timeboxing takes that law, which is normally a very annoying thing, and makes it into our friend. By limiting the amount of time allotted for the completion of a task, we also reduce the amount of work. When you only have a short time to finish something, the process gets streamlined and prioritized so that only the truly important things get completed.

Since time is usually the easiest variable to manipulate, using it to leverage Parkinson’s Law against a normally difficult task is a great way to maximize your efficiency when working on something. Having a restricted deadline gives you no choice but to focus on the task at hand and completely ignore any distractions that may pop up. If you only have 15 minutes to rock something out, you’re not going to waste that time to go answer the phone, stop to check your e-mail, or go see what people have been talking about on Twitter.

There are lots more reasons why timeboxing is so effective, but I don’t want to get into too much here. There will be time for that later. The important thing, now that you know how much better you life can be with timeboxing, is that you know how to get started in the first place.

How to Start Timeboxing

Getting started using timeboxing is easy and, best of all in my opinion since I am a raging cheapskate, it’s free. Well, it can be free. You can buy stuff to help out too. All you need to get started is yourself, a task to accomplish, and some way to keep time. Since you probably have a watch, clock, phone, computer and various other electronic devices with clocks or timers on them, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Cheap though I may be, I actually went out and bought a mechanical kitchen timer for like $2, and made it my official timeboxing timer. I like using it a lot better, both because it’s loud and mechanical not electronic so I have less worries about it malfunctioning, but also because having bought something specifically for timeboxing makes me want to do it even more. Even if it is just a $2 hunk of plastic and springs.

Now that you have what you need, time for step one.

Find a Task

The first step to get started is to find a task. This can be any task at all, but there are some that lend themselves a little better to timeboxing. The first are tasks that you are having a lot of issues getting the motivation up to do. Usually, these are either big things, like writing a novel, or unpleasant things, like cleaning out the attic.

The second category of tasks that lend themselves to timeboxing are time-sink tasks. Things that you waste way too much time on when you do them. Like I said before, e-mail is one of the biggest culprits here with social media being a close second for most people.

It’s good to start small until you get the hang of it, but pick something and move on to step two.

Consider Your Goals

There are lots of things you can accomplish with timeboxing, and knowing why you’re getting into it in the first place is important. Once you’ve picked your task, take a few minutes to think about what you want to really accomplish by timeboxing it.

It may be that you want to get the motivation to take the first step, chip a little into some monumental task or just mitigate the damage of something you usually spend too much time on.

Regardless of your reason, it’s important to take a second to figure out what it is before you move on to step three…

Set a Time

How much time you set is going to depend largely on what your goals for the action are.

Do you want to get the courage up to get started on a hard or boring task? Set a short time, 15 to 30 minutes maybe, that you know won’t be too painful or difficult to commit to.

Do you want to make incrememntal progress in something big? Set a longer time frame of an hour or maybe even two hours if you’re feeling motivated, just don’t go too overboard and burn yourself out.

In the beginning, the important thing is to just wing it and not worry too much about setting the perfect amount of time for your timebox, the more you play around with it, the more you’ll develop a nice intuitive feel for how long you should set for each task.

Get Busy

I would say this is the easiest step, but come on, this whole process is cake, and it’s not even a lie. No party submission position necessary here. Once you have your time set, get to work on your task, but make sure to always stop working when your time ends.

This is really important, because if you don’t, you’re not timeboxing. You’re pretending to timebox, but just doing what you always do anyway. That cake is a lie.

Work until time runs out, and then move on to step five.

Reward Yourself

When the timer goes off and you’re done with your task, reward yourself! There are lots of reasons why using rewards is great, but the best one is that this will keep you motivated and excited about timeboxing. On top of that, it will keep you fresh and happy when you move on to your next task, timeboxed or not.

Congratulations! You now know everything you need to know to get started timeboxing! Be sure to come back and let us know how it goes, and if you’ve been doing it for a while, we’d love for you to share any tips you’ve come up with to make timeboxing more effective.

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