The Science of Rewards

Lollipop by Sister72

Having the right reward can make all the difference.

Anyone who has been around children for an appreciable amount of time knows that the best way to get them to do something they don’t want to is to use a reward. Kid doesn’t want to go to the doctor so you promise them a new toy afterward if they behave, grades are slipping so you offer to pay $10 for every A you see on their report card, etc. Once they’ve been rewarded enough times for doing it, going to the doctor or getting better grades doesn’t become such a battle anymore. They may even start to enjoy it.

Ok, you may call those bribes, not rewards – doesn’t matter. The basic mechanism is the same regardless. The child has a behavior you want to correct, you offer a positive stimulus for engaging in the desired behavior and the child starts associating the behavior with the reward and begins to enjoy it. Easy.

Now, if this sounds a little bit like dog training that’s because, well, it is!

A part of dog training anyway. Don’t get insulted though and think I’m insinuating that your children are dogs (not that there would be anything wrong with that, I’m quite fond of dogs), classic conditioning is used as a part of dog training because it’s effective. Not just in dogs, but in pretty much all animals. Even better, we can use it on ourselves to motivate and condition us to achieve our goals.

Hormones & Neurotransmitters

The reason it’s so effective, in humans at least, is because of how our brains respond to rewards. That good feeling you get when you meet a goal, that high that comes from winning or earning a trophy, the sense of triumph when you beat a game on expert mode or unlock a new achievement on Steam. These feelings aren’t just all in your head.

Er, Ok, they are just in your head, but not in the imaginary way.

They’re a result of your brain chemistry. Of chemicals which are all in your head but more in a physical sense. Your brain likes rewards. It can’t help it, it’s a part of all of us. So when you set a goal knowing that there’s a reward at the end if you accomplish it, your brain starts releasing all sorts of very pleasant chemicals when you think about it. One of the strongest of these is dopamine.

Dopamine is some really strong stuff. It’s the main neurotransmitter linked with desire. When we get what we want, we get a good dose of dopamine and we feel good. When we don’t get what we want, we get starved of dopamine and get an unpleasant cocktail of stress hormones like cortisol. Not fun.

If you want a good example of how it feels to get a good shot of dopamine, think of the feeling of really deep love. Dopamine is one of the main chemicals released as a result of strong, devoted, never-want-to-be-apart love. Being with, or even just thinking about, the person you have those feelings for triggers a dopamine release. The cutoff of the dopamine supply is one reason why losing deep romantic love can feel like you’re dying.

So when you set a reward, thinking about earning that reward gives you little shots of happy, motivating neurotransmitters and thinking about failing to earn that reward gives you little shots of unpleasant, stressful neurotransmitters.

Just having a reward to work toward will naturally make you more motivated to succeed, and more concerned about failing. Additionally, if you make it a repeat process, your brain will start to associate that large dose of dopamine you get from finally earning that reward with whatever productive activity you assigned it to, making you want to do it more often with or without the reward.

The Price of Ownership

There’s a famous experiment that was run by Cornell University, where researches first gave students mugs with the school logo on it and then offered to trade the mugs for chocolate bars and then later gave students chocolate bars and then offered to trade them for school mugs.

Of the first group, almost none were willing to trade the mugs they had been given for the chocolate bars. It didn’t matter how much the students said they liked chocolate, the majority still chose to keep their mugs.

Now, before you attribute this to high school spirit, caffeine addiction or a sample set full of dieters – when the situation was reversed and the students who were given the chocolate bars were offered the mugs as a trade, the majority decided to keep the chocolate.

It turned out that no matter what it was, the students were always more likely to keep what they had rather than trade it away. This is usually referred to as the endowment effect.

The endowment effect basically means that when we assume ownership of something, we automatically make it a part of ourselves. Once we’ve made it a part of ourselves the loss of it triggers all those bad stress hormones and unhappy feelings triggered by losing a valued possession. This doesn’t just have to happen with things, it happens for ideas and people too. The best part is, you don’t even have to actually own something for the endowment effect to take hold, just the anticipation of owning something is enough to trigger it. Having someone tell you they are going to give you $50 and then later deciding not to feels just as bad as having someone just take $50 from your wallet.

That means that when you set rewards, you’re investing a part of yourself into attaining that reward. By having something that you know you will get when you accomplish your goal, you make failing to accomplish that goal just as painful as losing what you promised yourself as a reward. Believe me, that makes for a very strong motivator.

Putting It Into Practice

How do we make use of all this handy new information about rewards? Well, we start setting rewards! Ok, so there are a few little things to watch out for.

First of all, try not to shoot yourself in the foot with your reward. It’s ok if you want to make your reward for losing ten pounds a day long ice cream binge, just as long as you get right back to the habits that lost you those ten pounds after your glutton day.

An even better idea would be to reward yourself with something that itself continues to contribute to your goals. For example, “When I lose 10 pounds I’ll buy myself a new set of free weights”. Not only is a shiny new set of weights going to be a decent motivator (we’ll get to picking things you care about in a second), it’s also going to directly further your goals.

It’s also important to pick rewards that you actually want and to save the higher value rewards for the higher value goals. If you’ve got something you really want to accomplish or are really struggling finding the motivation for, give it one of the biggest, best rewards you can think of.

That should get you started with using rewards to keep yourself motivated and accomplishing things. Are there any other tricks you like to use when setting rewards? We’d love for you to share them with us in the comments.

Barriers Are The Enemy – Or Are They?

Rolling Roadblock by Brian Forbes

Would you let the sheep block you from the path, or would you block the sheep?

Barriers are a notorious, common enemy to anyone trying to reach their goals.They have many manifestations – something that gets in the way, laziness, etc. – but the result is always the same: they keep us from accomplishing our goals. There’s a lot of articles floating around the web on how barriers are evil goal and productivity killers and how you need to identify them and kick ‘em in the shins.

But what if we use barriers to our advantage? What if we flip them over and make them into a good thing? Is it even possible to use barriers to prevent ourselves from becoming derailed from the path to our goals? I think the answer is yes.

Use Barriers to Prevent Yourself from Getting Lazy

I can be quite a lazy person sometimes. There are some things that I just I prefer to take the path of least resistance on. Anything that I’m not in the habit of doing I find it hard making myself do it. I don’t mind cleaning every day, but with fitness despite how much I enjoy the activity, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. Especially whenever I’ve gotten out of the habit, it’s really hard for me to get back into it.

When I finally realized and acknowledged my own laziness, and found ways to combat it, I was finally able to stop saying “I should do x” and actually start doing it. Barriers became one of my favorite ways to make myself do stuff I’m not in the habit of doing.

Exercising is one thing that I’ve never had too much difficulty getting myself to do – except once I’ve fallen out of the habit and haven’t exercised in a while. Then, no matter how much I tell myself I want/need to start exercising again, it doesn’t really matter because I’ll often find some excuse not to do it. But, I’ve found a simple “barrier” that gets me used to it again, and back into the habit. It’s simple: It gets in my way.

Okay, well, exercise doesn’t just magically get in my way. I put the tools I need to work out in the way so that I’ll see it frequently on my way around the house. Rather than having the dumbbells off in the corner in a neatly arranged sequence, I pick out the ones that I need and set them in a high-traffic area of the house. That way, it’ll be easier for me to workout and I’ll think about it more often and my guilt will push me to complete the routine. Once I’ve gotten back into the habit, it’s not too difficult to put the equipment where it belongs and I’m much more self-motivated to go exercise on the allotted days.

Flip the Barrier Over to Do The Right Thing and Avoid The Wrong Thing

Another example of using barriers properly is how I used to spend my mornings. Frequently I’d wake up, make coffee, and then plop my butt down in front of the computer for a couple of hours reading the news, blogs, etc. and in general wasting valuable time. Without me even realizing it, I was throwing away around two to three hours every morning.

Then one day I decided that I needed to schedule my days to get more done, and to ensure that I knew what I needed to do every day. While scheduling, I remembered the old advice that exercising first thing in the morning would help you to feel great throughout the day and more productive. It’s something I’ve heard multiple times before – but never took to heart. So I started working out first thing, taking a shower, and then getting on with my day. Not only did it make me more cheerful and more productive, but I gained a ton of time in my day by just not being lazy in the morning. Another nice side effect was that I unintentionally changed my morning mood from a “perky-morning-people-should-be-shot” kind of person, to a “HIHOWAREYOUI’MFANTASTICTHANKS!!” kind of person.

As it turned out, my old morning routine was a barrier of its own, blocking my path and making it seriously difficult to build any momentum for the rest of the day.

I want to be productive somehow each day – so why was I wasting two hours every morning just sitting in front of the computer? The fact is, it was the easy thing to do. Even so, it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. Drafting that morning schedule and posting it in a conspicuous place built a wall of guilt around the office chair every morning. If you have a negative morning routine like what I had, use a barrier to get you to skip it for a new routine. Get up, go outside and breathe the fresh cool morning air, and go for a walk, do a body weight workout, or go to the gym.

Other Ways Barriers Can Help

Using barriers works for things you don’t necessarily enjoy but know you need to do too. Here’s some ideas of other ways barriers can help:

  • Want to learn how to do pull ups? put a pull-up bar over a frequently used doorframe or in a high-trafficked (by YOU!) hallway and every time you pass through, do a pull-up or negative.
  • Want to watch less TV? Cancel your subscriptions to cable networks, toss away all the batteries to your remote.
  • Want to eat less bad food? Donate everything in your house to others who need *any* food, and stop buying the bad food from the grocery.
  • Want to get more done in the morning? Change your routine.
  • Have difficulty spending less on impulse buys? Only carry cash to force yourself to think more carefully about your purchases.

Conclusion

Barriers can be a foe or a friend – even trivial ones. The key is recognizing what they are and either tearing them down where they cause problems or building them up where they’ll help out. Sometimes, we might not even realize something is a barrier – like my former morning routine.

If this article has helped you take control and use barriers to your advantage, let us know! We’d love to know about them, and I bet they might help other readers too.

Conquering the Fear of Failure

Flying by FelixTsao

Failing isn't really as scary as it looks.

Fear of failure is a seriously crippling thing. It’s also deeply rooted in our subconsciouses. How fun. Fear of failure makes us freeze out on stage and forget all of our lines. Fear of failure makes us not commit to things, to never get started in the first place or – worst of all – to purposefully sabotage projects that are going well before they really get going.

I have no science to back this claim up, but I would still bet that if you went around and asked everyone why they don’t quit their job and follow their dreams, why they haven’t sold all their junk and run off to travel the world or probably even why they aren’t trying to improve themselves that the most common answer would be – fear of failure.

Being afraid of failing is a natural thing. That being said, it’s still not a good thing. It keeps us from going where we want to go and doing what we want to do. It makes us miserable, anxious and in a lot of cases depressed. I’m sure someone smarter than I could devise a way to turn those around and harness fear of failure to make it work for them.

The Problem with Being Scared

In some cases fear is a good thing. If you’re in danger you need to know about it. Fear keeps us from doing a lot of really dangerous, crazy things. The thing is the world’s a much safer place than it was 50,000 years ago (not that I’m complaining), but our brains don’t know it yet.

Your brain can’t really distinguish the feeling it gets from turning a corner and finding an irate mother grizzly and the feeling it gets from being in the spotlight in front of a huge crowd. In one of those cases, that fear response is appropriate. In the other, not so much.

When that fear response is triggered, as I’m sure you already know, your body goes into ol’ fight-or-flight mode. That means a big dump of performance enhancing stress hormones into your brain, adrenaline and cortisol being two big players. This big release of hormones and neurotransmitters is fantastic if you need to run from a smilodon, pick up a car or fight off an assailant. They are not so fantastic when you’re trying to remember your lines, or get the motivation up to follow your dreams.

On top of those direct fight-or-flight triggers, fear of failure often grows into a sort of general dread about what might happen. Dreading something means it creates a lot of stress, stress means lots of cortisol and lots and lots of constant cortisol release means you’ll start feeling really run down before long.

That feeling of dread also causes us to do really stupid things. How many things do you wish you could do, but are too scared to do because you’re afraid of failing? How often have you passed up a really fantastic opportunity just because you didn’t think you were good enough, or you were worried it wouldn’t work out?

I have even known someone personally who had planned to start her own business, put tons of work into it, even gone and done pitches for prospective clients, but when inquiries started rolling in for work – she dropped it. Excuses were made, she said it would be too difficult, it just wasn’t the right time, blah blah blah. It was obvious though, she was just too scared that she would fail if she kept going so she chose to give up instead.

How to Fight Your Fear of Failure

Fighting isn’t really the best word for it in my opinion. I think it’s a bad idea to fight your fears, in fact, I pretty much always think it’s a bad idea to fight something that’s part of your nature. It’s too tough of a battle to really end well. Instead of fighting your fears, you need to learn to dismiss them.

As I pointed out, nowadays the physiological fear response we experience is unnecessary for 99% of the situations we feel it in. It sounds silly, but our brains don’t know that the audience isn’t going to savagely maul us if we mess up. In fact, because of our fantastic imaginations, a majority of people way, way, way overestimate the potential consequences of their actions.

We can fix that.

Next time you realize you have some dread, a gnawing fear or a deep apprehension of the future, stop and ask yourself, “Honestly, what is the worst case scenario?”. Give it some really good thought too, sit down and work it out. Think about what the absolute total worst that could happen is.

Ok, now you might be a little more scared, but bear with me. Now that you’ve come up with the worst-possible-case-doomsday-apocalypse outcome, how likely is it really to happen? Is it even that bad? What would you do if it did happen?

Now think about what probably would happen if you failed. Is it really that bad? What are you so scared of? Let’s look at a real world example.

Say you want to quit your day job and start your own business, but you haven’t yet. You’re too scared that you’ll fail and lose everything. Let’s even say you’re the sole income supporting a wife and two kids. What is the worst possible thing that could happen?

The business tanks, you have no income, you lose your house, your wife leaves you to avoid having to eat the children and you wander the streets for the rest of your life, destitute and abandoned. Then you get hit with a meteor.

Honestly though, what are the odds of that? What might really happen if you fail?

The business tanks, you support yourself on whatever savings you have until you find another 9 to 5 or try another business venture. Maybe things get so bad you have to sell your house and downsize, boo hoo. Maybe you can’t find a job and have to flip burgers for a while. Oh well. You won’t be on the streets, you won’t be starving and you won’t be dead. Why is that so scary?

If you fail, you just roll with it. Cut your losses and try something new or admit that you did your best and go find another job in whatever industry you left, or maybe somewhere else. Once you’ve actually sat down and thought things out, it’s just not that scary anymore.

Failing Before You Start

Now that you know that the outcome of actually failing – precisely what you were so afraid of – isn’t actually a big deal, it’s even worse to let fear of failure stop you from working toward your dreams.

I’m always completely amazed when people say they wish they could do something, but are too afraid of failure to start, and then get frustrated that they can’t follow their dreams. It amazes me because if you never try, all you can do is fail.

I understand completely the fear of striking out, but refusing to swing or even to step up to the plate all because you might strike out is ludicrous. In order to avoid the unpleasantness of failing, people make themselves fail from the outset by giving up.

I’m reminded of a quote from the signature of a member of a Parkour community I was a part of four or five years ago, I’m not sure who to attribute it to but it went something like this – “The only way to fail is to give up or to die, and I’m not giving up.”

The point is, as long as you’re alive and willing to keep trying, you haven’t failed yet. If that’s the case, why be so scared of failing? If giving up is the only real way to fail, why give up to avoid failure?

Getting Used to Being a Failure

If you are particularly scared of failing, I highly suggest you try this.

In the past, I used to be afraid of failure in a lot of areas. I was great at rolling with the bad stuff when it came my way, but there were a lot of opportunities that I could have taken that I passed up because I was scared of the potential consequences. Learning to look at things honestly and see how inconsequential the consequences of failure usually are helped a ton.

If you need a little more help getting over it, I suggest you try a little exercise to condition yourself to failure. Every so often, maybe once a week, find something you’re doing and allow yourself to fail at it.

It’s best to pick something inherently benign (I don’t want a flood of e-mails blaming me for failed marriages, that’s your fault) since you want to make sure there won’t be any bad consequences from the failure. Honestly, whatever you pick you’ll start to see that your failure really didn’t matter. The world is still here. No one died. Your life isn’t ruined.

After a few of these practice sessions failing, when you actual find yourself faced with something you’re scared of failing at, you can think back to those times and remember that it really isn’t such a big deal – there’s no reason to be nervous.

The only way to fail is to give up or die.

Have any of these techniques worked for you? Have you used some other way to conquer your fear of failure? Tell us about it!

The Paleo/Primal Diet 101: The Basics

Caveman by Sabeth718

Thankfully, eating like a caveman is a lot easier than it used to be.

I eat like a caveman.

Well, ok, not exactly like a caveman. We don’t know with 100% certainty how pre-agricultural man ate and I admit to enjoying the occasional bottle of wine, bar of chocolate or aged cheese – all of which I can pretty comfortably say wouldn’t have been easily available 20,000 years ago. Let’s not get too bogged down in particulars here though, compared to the vast majority of my modern man compatriots I eat like a caveman.

So why do I eat like a caveman and not the way everyone else eats? Let’s take a look at two average specimens of good ol’ Homo Sapiens and see if we can’t solve this riddle.

  • Caveman – Our paleolithic specimen is tall, even by today’s standards. He’s what most people would probably call ‘ripped’ (think Olympic gymnast or sprinter) with a body used to running down animals twice his size for dinner and running from animals twice his size to not be dinner. He gets a good nap in everyday, and even has straight, cavity-free teeth.
  • Businessman – Now our modern day speciman on the other hand, is several inches shorter than his ancestor. What he lacks in height, he makes up in girth as he’s currently 60 lbs. overweight. He gets winded if he takes the stairs at work, and needs several strong stimulants to make it to lunch which comes from a box or a drivethrough window. Oh, and he’s already losing his hair at 30.

So what happened? In a word, agriculture. Mankind had just spent around 100,000 years slowly adapting and evolving to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. 100 millenia’s worth of subtle, trial-and-error tweaks had made us pretty good at living in that environment.

Then, we had to go and mess things up.

Ok, so agriculture wasn’t all bad. We wouldn’t be here today without it. Agriculture provided a surplus of food, which let us settle down and invent the Internet. Eventually, anyway. The problem is, this all happened in the span of about 10,000 years. That may seem like a long time, but in evolutionary terms that is less than a blink of the eye.

It’s like waiting until you’re 95 years old and then deciding you want to be a professional linebacker – our bodies just couldn’t handle the sudden change. We had enough food to survive, but that food made us sicker, shorter and weaker than we had been a few thousand years previous.

The main culprit? Grains. We didn’t really eat grains before we domesticated them. They can be hard to find, they have to be processed to be consumable, and they have comparatively little to offer nutritionally.

Grains, unlike some other plants, don’t want us to eat them. They are full of two very nasty chemicals, lectins and gluten. Both of these cause systemic damage to the human body, causing inflammation, intestinal damage, allergic reactions and all sorts of other unpleasant things.

On top of this, grains consist almost entirely of carbohydrates. Extremely dense sources of carbohydrates are extremely diffcult to find when living as a hunter-gatherer and as a result, made up very little of our ancestors’ diet. Our bodies adapted to make the most of the carbohydrates that they could get.

The basic process is that carbs are turned into glucose which is then used for energy and to feed your brain and help some other body processess. The extra glucose is then stored as fat since, back then anyway, big doses of carbs were few and far-between and times of starvation were a real risk.

There’s more to the process involving Insulin and some other fascinating bits of body chemistry, but I’ll leave that for another time. The point is, too many carbs in our diet nowadays makes us fat. We don’t have to battle a horde of irate bees over their honey to get a sugar rush anymore, we just have to open a box of cookies or down a soft drink. That’s bad.

So how do we fix it? We eat like cavemen! Or at least as close to it as necessary to get the benefit of expressing our genetics in the way evolution shaped them to be expressed.

What do I eat?

  • Meat – Sorry vegetarians, but this lifestyle probably isn;t going to work for you. I’m being all-inclusive with this category. Beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, & any other animal it is societally acceptable to consume. You want all your meat to be grass-fed, not grain-fed. It’s worth checking into, since eating a grain based diet is just as bad for the animals you eat as it is for you. You want your eggs to come from free-range chickens (Omega-3 enriched are a nice bonus) and your fish to be wild, not farmed.
  • Vegetables – Go crazy. Eat as many different vegetables as you can handle but stay away from the extremely starchy vegetables whenever possible. This includes potatoes. Sorry. Also stay away from corn. Corn is a grain, not a vegetable, and is particularly bad for you, especially since it is in everything now.
  • Fruits – This is the only place you should be getting your sugars from. I indulge in a bar of dark chocolate every once in a while too, but it is extremely rare. Too many fruits may hamper weight loss efforts a bit, but for overall health they’re great.
  • Fats – Stick to good, naturally made fats. That means no to margarine, shortening, canola oil, vegetable oil and peanut oil. The why’s are somewhat complex, but you’re far better off sticking to olive oil, lard, butter, avocado oil & one of my personal favorites, coconut oil.
  • Extras – Things like nuts and seeds can make a fantastic paleo appropriate snack, or a good way to bump calorie intake up a bit if you’re having trouble adjusting to the diet changes. Be careful though, nuts and seeds pack a lot of calories in a little package and shouldn’t be eaten in too large of amounts.

That’s it! That’s what I eat. Now on to what’s equally as important.

What do I not eat?

  • Grains – This one should’ve been obvious. This also includes anything that has grains in it. That means no bread & no baked goods. It also means no corn and nothing with high fructose corn syrup in it (trust me, you won’t miss that).
  • Refined Sugar – All the sugar in my diet comes from either fruit, honey or the previously mentioned occasional treat. No more soft drinks, no more sugar in your coffee and no more candy.
  • Dairy – There’s a lot of arguments about this one. On one hand, our ancestors never would have drank milk past infancy, and certainly not that of another species. That being said, a lot of people can handle milk tolerably well, and butter – though our ancestors may not have had it – seems to not have any of the detriments of other dairy items. Personally, I avoid milk, eat lots of butter (from grass-fed cows), and enjoy a good aged cheese now and again.
  • This is the basic outline of what it means to eat like a caveman. I could explain all the health benefits, talk about all the people who have gotten into the best shape of their lives eating this way or share my own personal story, but who cares about all that? My advice, try it for 30 days. 30 days is nothing, and if you don’t feel like a whole new person you can always go right back to eating donuts and drinking soda.

    Anyone have any personal success stories they would like to share? Leave them in the comments!

Why You Should Be Grateful

Empty Bowl Project by Carabou

Don't take what you have for granted, it might not always be there.

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the best things that you can do to improve your quality of life is to learn to be grateful and appreciative.

We’ve talked about ways to improve your quality of life before, and touched on gratefulness there, but it deserves its own article.

Having a strong sense of gratefulness or appreciation is extremely important in developing an overall sense of well-being and happiness in life. All too often people find themselves losing sight of what’s really important, growing unhappy with their situation and becoming upset over everything.

Learning to be grateful helps solve all of these problems. Understanding how lucky you are to have the things that you do have often puts into perspective how inconsequential it is when you don’t get the things you want. Gratefulness lets us look at a bad situation which might otherwise really upset us and say, “You know, I’m gonna let it go. It’s really no big deal.”

Next time something bad happens to you, stop and think of the millions of people who probably are substantially worse off than you. If you’re reading this then you have electricity, an Internet connection and, presumably by extension, some money. There are countless people with none of those luxuries

Having a well-developed sense of appreciation for what you do have also keeps you from listing towards the whirlpools of consumerism. When you appreciate what you have, minimalism comes naturally and it’s easy to determine what you really do and don’t need.

The most important thing to remember is that as long as you’re still alive, it could be worse – you could be dead.

It’s optimistic to assume you’re going to get a full 100 years. You may not even get the 80 or so that citizens of most industrialized nations have come to expect. Given that fact, does it really make sense to let the bad things bother you when you could spend them being happy about what you’ve got? You have to take care to avoid complacency, which is another article in itself, but if you’ve got such a short time why spend it upset and unhappy?

Putting It Into Practice

So how do you develop a sense of gratefulness if it’s something you’re currently lacking? The first way would be to work on your sense of empathy and of objectively looking at the consequences of a situation. When something bad happens, step back for a second and think of how that compares to the suffering of people who are in genuinely life-threatening situations on a daily basis.

Consider the fact that there is an unending number of people who have died as children. Not to depress anyone, but when you compare to people who never had the chance to live long enough to have a job, let alone be fired from one, it seems kind of petty to be whiny and upset about it.

Another good way to develop a true appreciation for something is to lose it. Try going for a weekend being as minimalist as possible. Empty your fridge and flip the circuit breaker off for a day or two (though if your house has one, you may want to leave the switch to the sump pump on). Nothing will make you feel as thankful as going without running water for any appreciable amount of time.

Of course, if you’re going to try a minimalism experiment to see just how much you take things for granted, do use your head about it and don’t do anything that’s going to hurt anybody

Any thoughts on being more grateful, or good ways to learn to appreciate the things you’ve got and not take them for granted?

5 Reasons to Practice Parkour

London Parkour by JB London

Getting in excellent shape is just one benefit to parkour training.

Parkour.

If you’re not practicing it, you should be. If you are, well, then you don’t really need to be reading this do you? Go outside and have some fun.

Anyway, back to the people who are the actual targets of this article – people who don’t practice parkour. You might be wondering, “What in the world is parkour anyway?”. I’m glad you asked.

Parkour, as defined by Mark of American Parkour, is “…the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment.” Now, that’s just speaking strictly of parkour, there’s also freerunning. I’m not really going to touch freerunning for right now, since there’s a lot of debate over what ‘real’ parkour is and I don’t want to get into it here. Suffice it to say that parkour is moving over obstacles in the most fluid and efficient way possible.

Put another way, parkour is the art of making the entire world your playground.

So, why should you care enough to give it a try? I’m glad you asked that too. Here’s five reasons.

Parkour Can Be The Ultimate Fitness Plan

Without going too much into the history of it all, parkour was very heavily influenced by a man you’ve probably never heard of before named Georges Hébert. Hébert found when travelling through Africa that the people there were in a state of fitness that put the people back home to shame, even though they never followed a structured exercise routine. This lead him to develop a fitness system he called the Natural Method, where each training session would involve a variety of real world movements like running, jumping, crawling, climbing, throwing etc.

His method resulted in substantially more even body development and significantly better fitness than the methods commonly in use at the time. Parkour took some inspiration from his method, and by its nature develops the body in much the same way.

When you practice parkour you walk, you run, you sprint in bursts mixed with periods of slow movement (sound like interval training?), you vault over things, you roll, you climb, you crawl, you jump, you balance. Almost every way you can make your body move, parkour practice will find a way to make you do it.

This kind of free flowing circuit training is fantastic for your fitness level. Even without working out more, just by going out for a few regular parkour training sessions, you’ll find your strength, balance and likely even flexibility improving. Additionally, it’s all real, compound, full-body movements. These aren’t some isolationist bicep-curl-esque exercises, training for parkour prepares your body to use its fitness in real world situations.

Parkour Gives Increased Confidence

Some people suffer terribly from a lack of confidence. In most cases, it takes a lot of work and practice to build them selves up and get used to the idea of being and acting confidant.

Parkour is a natural confidence builder, as it slowly takes you from not being able to do much to being able to do things that you never would have guessed possible. When you look up at a wall that you know is higher than anything you’ve ever been able to scale before and you commit and manage to make it over, you feel like you can accomplish anything. After a while, that feeling starts to bleed out into the rest of your life.

Whenever you start feeling unconfident about something, your job, school, whatever – you can think back to the time you got over that wall, cleared that gap or landed that precision and remember that if you can do something that awesome, you can do anything.

Parkour Brings More Creativity and a Better Attitude

Parkour, in a sense, is all about the obstacles. If there were no obstacles, you couldn’t have parkour.

Psychologically, that fact starts to affect you after a while. While once you might have seen a wall, a fence or a gate as an obstruction, something that meant you shall not pass – you now see as a toy, a piece of playground equipment, a fun challenge.

It doesn’t take long, after starting to look at every physical obstacle you find in your path as a challenge to be tackled with enthusiasm, that you find yourself seeing mental obstacles in the same way. Rather than hit a problem and immediately get frustrated, you’ll find yourself excited with the prospect of a challenging problem to overcome.

Parkour also fosters creativity. The goal is to move over the obstacles in as efficient a way as possible. That usually takes some creativity on its own, but lots of people (particularly those more inclined toward freerunning) also try to clear obstacles in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.

That means that once you get into it, you start deconstructing objects to figure out what the most efficient way to get past it would be, and how to make that look really good. Everytime you look at something you’ll be practicing your creativity.

Parkour is Extremely Fun

Maybe it’s the very fundamental, animal-like movements, maybe it’s the feeling of putting all your strength and energy into something and not holding back, maybe it’s just the intensity and the joy of flying through the air – I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about parkour that taps into our primal nature.

Practicing parkour makes you feel like a little kid again, screaming your head off as you run from whoever was ‘it’ in a game of tag. It’s like the feeling of having an all out sprint just for the fun of it. There’s just something fantastically fulfilling about it. Not to mention addictive.

Honestly, to understand how fun it really is, you just have to go try it. I warn you though, it’s addictive.

Parkour Makes You Feel Like a Ninja

Ok, so this last reason may be a bit egotistical, but who cares? Parkour & freerunning both, aside from being wonderful exercise that will get you in fantastic shape, excellent ways to make you more confident, creative, & positive and a source of fulfilling, exuberant joy, just plain look cool.

Everyone always wanted to be a ninja. Now you can be. Well, kind of. You can feel like one. Not to mention you get to be a part of an enormous, friendly, welcoming community of like-minded individuals from all over the planet who are joined by a love of fun and personal development. Seriously, there are some great people in the parkour community.

So there you go. Five good reasons (or, maybe four good reasons and one ok one) why you should be practicing parkour. To end, just in case you’re still a little confused what all this is, check out these videos. The first is about pure, strict parkour – the other is about freerunning and acrobatic parkour. Watch them. Get pumped. Go get started.




5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

Checklist by Adesigna

You'll be doing yourself a big favor by checking a few of these off your list.

You’re going to hear this from me a lot, so get used to it – before long, you’re going to be dead. I don’t mean that as a threat or anything, I’ll be dead too, it’s just that we really don’t get very long to live. As a male in the U.S., ranked #36 in world life expectancy at the time of writing, I’m told I’ve got about 75 years total. At 23 years old, that means one full third of my projected life is gone already, and most of that time has been spent wasting away in compulsory schooling.

With that in mind, don’t you think it’s a good idea to try out this list of 5 easy little things that you can do to improve your quality of life for what time you do have here?

  1. Smile More – This is number one because it’s the easiest and will have a big effect not just on you, but everyone around you. Smile more. It’s not hard, and the positive effects it will have will make a noticeable difference in your life. You’ll be happier, people around you will be happier and everyone will like you more. It doesn’t just improve your quality of life, it helps improve their quality of life too. Everybody wins.
  2. Be Grateful – Appreciate what you have and don’t let it get you down when stuff goes wrong or when you can’t get what you want. Calm down, chill out and take a moment to realize that you’ve got it pretty good. Now, I’m not saying you should get complacent, but if you can read this and live in a modern industrialized nation then it’s reasonably likely you have nothing major to complain about.
  3. Go Play – I considered saying, “Get Some Exercise” instead of “Go Play”, but that sounds too much like work. Don’t get me wrong getting some physical exercise will make you happier (endorphins and such), but why stop there? Go play! I don’t mean video games either, go play a good physically active game. ‘We don’t stop playing when we get old, we get old when we stop playing’ and as over-used as that saying is its got a lot of truth to it. Taking some time for a game of Ultimate or tag will do more for improving your quality of life and well-being than you think.
  4. Get Some Sun – Sunlight is an extraordinarily powerful thing. We are built with a natural need for sunlight, to the point where not getting enough of it can cause clinical depression. Exposure to sunlight doesn’t just provide us with the ever essential Vitamin D, but also gives a natural sense of well-being and contentedness. Besides, the majority of us spend way too much time entombed indoors bathed in harsh incandescence. Get outside or buy some full spectrum lights.
  5. Be Social – Even if you’re a hardcore introvert, stepping out of your shell a little bit and socializing with people – in person, not online – will improve your quality of life more than you think. You don’t have to go crazy, but take a chance and meet someone new, or at least spend a little extra time in the good company of the friends you already have. Life is to be enjoyed, and sharing it with people you care about is one of the best ways to do that.

Now these five things may not be completely life-changing (I did say 5 easy things), but they will all make a noticeable difference in how much you enjoy the time you’ve got. In the end, that’s the important thing.

Do you have any easy changes you’ve made that have made a big improvement in the quality of your life? We’d love to hear them!

Fake Smiles to Make Smiles – How to Be Happier

Olivia's Big Smile by Sofubared

Come on, how can seeing this not make you smile?

Imagine for a moment that there were a way to make yourself a happier, more productive person. Something that could, without any harmful side-effects, literally change your brain chemistry to make you more cheerful. On top of its ability to alter your brain, it would be completely free of charge and extremely contagious – improving not only your life but the lives of everyone around you as well.

Thankfully, and as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I’m not talking about some magical, imaginary technique. I’m talking about smiling.

That’s right, just smiling. Most people don’t realize how drastic of an effect smiling can have on us. I’m not just talking about seeing other people smile either, just the action of smiling directly affects what chemicals are released in our brains. Let’s take a look at some of the effects.

  • Increased Happiness – Most people think that a smile is just an outward expression of happiness that is the result of our brains already being made happy by something. It turns out though that it isn’t a one-way street; the brain is constantly ‘checking’ the facial muscles. When it checks and finds you smiling, it releases the same hormones (endorphins, etc.) that compel us to smile in the first place. What this means is that a smile, even a faked one, can physically make you feel happier. As a side benefit, it even helps lower blood pressure.
  • Improved Perceptions – Consciously putting a smile on your face doesn’t just make you feel good, it makes everyone else feel good too. A study conducted by Penn State University showed that when people observe someone smiling they consider them more attractive (well, duh), courteous, likable and – most interestingly – found they appeared more competent.
  • The Smile Cascade – Everyone already knows that smiles are contagious. One of the reasons for this is because we naturally mimic other people’s smiles when we see them to help determine if they are sincere or not. This mimicry causes a mild cascade effect. You smile, someone sees you smile and instinctively mimics it, that causes their brain to release endorphins which makes them happy, they smile even more and it continues. This also means the more you smile, the more often endorphins will be released in people’s brains when they see you. The more that happens the more they’ll associate you with feeling good.

So how do you best take advantage of all these benefits? It’s easy – smile more. Of course, most people can spot a forced smile when they see one, so do your best to make it as genuine as you can. The best way to do that is to imagine something that makes you really, really happy and focus on that visualization for a moment while making yourself smile. Another good trick is to picture someone else already smiling, which will naturally make you want to do the same.

Have any other tips to add or personal experiences with this technique? Let us know!

Learn Languages with Chrome

Cloud Gate by Anca Mosolu

This isn't the chrome we mean, nor is it what we mean when we refer to 'The Cloud'...

No, not chrome the metal – Google Chrome. After I talked about using it to automatically translate pages you would normally view in your native language into your target language, several people have been asking how to do it. Enough people have asked that I decided to just make it into a quick how-to.

For those who have been living under rocks for the past year or two, Google Chrome is a web browser developed and released by Google. Personally, I’m fond of it. Not just because it’s fast, but because of all the handy little tricks you can make it do – at this point, I’ve almost completely been converted over from Firefox. You can get Google Chrome from Chrome’s download page.

Now that that’s taken care of, to make Google Chrome translate pages from your native tongue to your target one, open Chrome (derp) and go to the Options menu by clicking on the little picture of the wrench (spanner if you’re across the pond) and selecting Options.

The Options menu will open, and you then select Under the Hood.

Once you’ve done that, go to where it says Web Content and click on the button that reads Language and Spell-Checker Settings.

This opens a new menu where you can add and select new languages. Click on the Add button, and use the drop down menu that opens up to find your target language. Once you’ve found it, select it. After you’ve selected it, it will be added to your Languages list. Click Display Google Chrome in this Language and it will then prompt you to restart. Make sure you don’t have any important windows open (though Chrome will save them for you) and click Restart.

Congratulations! Chrome is now in your target language! Now, in addition to being able to learn all of the words relating to just operating Chrome, every time you visit a page in your native language, a bar will appear at the top of the screen asking if you wish to translate this page into your target language. All you have to do is click the word for ‘Yes’ (usually the one on the left) and Chrome will automatically translate everything it can on that page into your target language.

So to recap, that’s: Options>Under the Hood>Web Content>Language and Spell-Checker Settings>[Your target language]>Add>Restart (The button, not your computer).

Now, it is still important to seek out genuine, native speaker written content whenever you can. This is an automated translator and it is hardly perfect. That being said, Google Translate is one of my favorites as far as actually coming up with proper translations. If you want similar functionality, but just can’t bear the idea of changing your browser into all your target language (why not?), you can always go download the Google Translator Chrome extension.

Once it’s installed, it will add a little translate icon to the top of Chrome, which you can then click and have it translate the page you’re on into the language of your choosing. The best part about using either of these methods, is that when a page is translated you can hover over a word to see what it originally said. This is a fantastic way to let you read a little beyond your level in your target language, without needing to constantly reach for a dictionary or copy/paste into a translator.

Any other tricks you know to make Chrome (or any other browser) help you learn a language? Share them with us in the comments.

Live a Language to Learn a Language

Bubble by Zzub Nik

Building a 'Language Bubble' can be the best way to learn a new language without traveling.

Contrary to what some people may tell you, you don’t have to move to a country that speaks your target language natively to become fluent.

For some reason a lot of people seem to treat moving to a country that speaks their target language as the ‘magic pill’ of language learning. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation of ‘Well, if I had the money to go live in [country] for a year or two I’d be great at speaking [language]!’

I will admit, I can definitely see why people are fond of repeating it – you have plenty of success stories from people using this method, and since traveling to foreign lands is often seen as an expensive, difficult thing (a lie I’ll address in another article) it makes a perfect cop-out. There are plenty of ‘good excuses’ for why you just can’t travel right now, so no one can fault you for not learning that language you’ve been wanting to speak for years, right?

The problem is, moving to a country – regardless of duration of stay – will not teach you to speak a language unless you put the same amount of work in as would be required back home. I’ve met plenty of people who have lived, not vacationed but lived, in foreign countries for several years and never learned more of that country’s language than basic necessary phrases. I’m not the lone voice in the wilderness on this problem either.

So why does moving to a new country work for some people and not for others? Easy, it’s a question of immersion.

Diving into Language Immersion

Sorry for the mild pun. People who move to countries who speak their target language and are successful in learning it can get there so quickly because they are constantly exposed to their target language. If they want to chat with a new friend, it’s done in the target language. I they want to watch TV, it’s in the target language. Read a newspaper, buy a coffee, decipher the bus schedule, whatever – it’s in the target language.

You may be thinking, ‘Wait… some people aren’t successful. They’re exposed to the language constantly, why do they fail?’

Easy, if you got to know these people you would find that, consciously or not, they do everything they can to not expose themselves to the country’s native language. They ‘turtle-up’ and create a shield of their native language around themselves. I’ve seen it happen with non-English speakers too, but I have to admit we Americans seem notorious for this kind of behavior. People surround themselves with other English speaking expat/traveller friends, watch English TV via satellite or internet, and read only English news online. This English language bubble effectively insulates them from a majority of their exposure to any other language. They essentially create and inhabit an artificial, miniaturized, English-speaking country abroad – peppered only by a handful of excursions across the border.

Turning the Tables

Thankfully, we can take these problems and redirect them to our advantage so well it would make even O Sensei proud. See, if success comes when one allows oneself to be immersed in a language, and people in other countries can manage to keep themselves immersed in their native language, then that means people can do the opposite and immerse themselves in their target language without leaving their homeland.

So how do you do it? You construct your own language bubble – an L2 embassy, a linguistic fortress of solitude, a native language no man’s land, a… um… ok, you get the idea. The trick here is to take everything you would normally do throughout the day in your native language, and start doing it in the language you’re trying to acquire. This sort of tactic has been used extensively in the past to great success, one notable example being Khatzumoto who acquired Japanese without ever setting foot in Japan. Here’s some tips to get started:

  • Use your Technology – The easiest and, in my opinion, best first step to take is to go through every piece of technology you have and change the language settings into your target language. Be thorough too, don’t just switch your iPod’s language settings and call it a day. Change them on your computer, your e-mail client, everything. You’d be surprised at how many things have language settings now.
  • Work the Web – Most websites have language settings now too. Use them. There’s no reason you can’t use Gmail or Facebook in your target language. A handy trick if you’re using Google Chrome is to set it to automatically translate the pages you visit into your target language. Need to look something up? Use your target language’s Wikipedia page. A quick search should also turn up some news sites written in your target language.
  • Make Every Task Count – Start changing every little thing you do into an exercise in your target language. Need to make a shopping list? Do it in the target language. Memo for later? Target language. Keeping a journal? Target language. Compiling a hit list? Targe…. alright, don’t make a hit list. The more you can do in your target language, the better. It may take a while at first to look up all the words you don’t know. No worries, jot them down in a notebook for later. You’ll be impressed at how quickly you find yourself not needing to reach for the dictionary.
  • Update your Music Library – Clean out all the Backstreet Boys and Rick Astley, music in your native tongue isn’t going to get you anywhere. Spend a little time on YouTube or Last.fm and dig up some artists who sing in the language you’re trying to acquire. If you’re too cheap to buy their music once you find something you like, make a Grooveshark playlist of all your favorites. Don’t just use this for passive listening either, learn some of those songs!
  • Find New Friends – Let’s be honest, all your friends are deadbeats and they say mean things about you when you’re not around. Besides, all they ever want to do is speak in your native language- that’s so last year! Ditch those losers and find some cool friends. Kidding aside, finding native speakers of your target language to interact with is a huge step in becoming fluent in that language. Join Lang-8 and start posting, do a search for the social network of choice for the country which speaks your target language, or look for a Meetup group dedicated to it. There are a million ways to find native speakers in your area, so get social and go find them.

I’m sure there are a multitude of other ways to build your own self-contained immersion zone, and if you have any good ones please share them in the comments, but these should get you started. Before long, you’ll find you’ve gotten much, much further than people who stick to classrooms or bury themselves in ‘Total Immersion’ textbooks written mostly in English.

Have any of these tactics worked for you? Do you have any insights about them, what is easy what’s hard etc.? Let us know in the comments!

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