How to Recharge with the Caffeine Nap

Be My Guest and Take a Rest by PoYang

A little bit of coffee and 15 minutes of sleep can work wonders.

We’ve all been there. You had a rough night and didn’t get nearly enough sleep – maybe it’s because you were out partying, maybe it’s because you were up late finishing a project, maybe you were up half the night with a shrieking infant – it doesn’t matter.

Now it’s about 1 p.m. the following day and you basically want to die. You’re miserable, exhausted and likely to tear the head off the next person who comes near you. You can’t go back to bed though, there’s work to do and just quitting in the middle of the day to go sleep is going to make things even worse. So what do you do?

You use the caffeine nap.

What’s a Caffeine Nap?

The idea behind a caffeine nap is to give your brain a concentrated blast of everything it needs to feel better in the short term without giving in to the longer term solution of actually getting some sleep. It’s basically a nap on steroids. Or, well, stimulants.

Sleep, on its own, is obviously the best long term solution to being excessively tired. The problem is that it’s generally very time consuming. You have to be able to sleep long enough to get through enough REM cycles to actually recover. On top of that if you check out mid-day to go sleep for 6 hours you’re going to wake up at 9 p.m. fully rested and not be able to get back to sleep. That just leads to screwed up circadian rhythms which is taking you down a whole other rabbit hole of problems.

Caffeine, on its own, is also an o.k. short term solution but often just isn’t enough. Due to its lipid solubility caffeine gets into your system and across the blood-brain barrier pretty quickly. Caffeine is more like a bandage though. It covers the problem up and makes it a little better short term but it won’t get you through the day. Before long you’re going to crash, and even while the caffeine is working you tend to still feel like a confused and ornery mess, just one with plenty of energy.

A caffeine nap combines both of these things (plus an additional third one I like to add which I’ll get to later) to not only give you a good sustained boost of energy, but also to clear away as much of the mental fog as possible that administering caffeine alone wouldn’t remove. It’s not a complete substitute for a full night’s sleep, but it will make you feel better enough for the rest of the day to get everything you need to do done without having to worry about being pressed with assault charges when the well meaning barista gets your order wrong.

When to Use a Caffeine Nap

A caffeine nap is never going to be a substitute for a good night’s sleep. Ever.

Where it’s extremely useful is when you just can’t make it through the rest of the day but you’ve got a ton of stuff to do. This doesn’t just have to be because you’re flat out sleep deprived, anytime you feel yourself crashing you can use a caffeine nap to get back on your feet for a while.

The best times for these are a little bit before you need to do whatever it is you need to feel better for, but not so far ahead that it’s like six or seven hours away. The effects of a good caffeine nap do last a while, but they start to taper off after a few hours. You need at least 15 to 20 minutes to get a good caffeine nap as well, so make sure you’ve got at least that much.

I also wouldn’t recommend a caffeine nap if it’s getting to close to when you’ll be able to go to sleep anyway. You are going to be knocking back a good dose of caffeine, and we don’t want the residual effect to disrupt your sleep patterns the next night or else you’re going to be pushing yourself into a bad cycle of general sleep deprivation.

Essentially anytime you need a boost around mid-day or earlier and you’ve got at least 15 minutes to steal away for a nap, a caffeine nap is the way to go.

How to Take a Caffeine Nap

Our goal for a caffeine nap is two-fold, the first aspect is to get a good solid dose of stimulants into your system and the second is to get enough sleep to let your brain recharge a bit.

The trick to it lies in the fact that we can’t let your brain have too much sleep or it’ll go into full repair mode and then you’ll feel more zombified when you wake back up, and we also can’t let the stimulants take effect too long before the sleep or you’ll never actually wind down enough to get any rest.

So here’s what you do:

  1. Ingest a Dose of Caffeine Combined with a Dose of Glucose – There are a lot of options here as to what your drug of choice will be. Ideally you want something you can drink quickly. Caffeine begins to take effect in as little as ten minutes due to its easy absorption, although it can take up to an hour for it to reach full absorption. That means that a hot coffee might not always be the best choice, they’re hard to drink very quickly without risking burning yourself.

    You also want something that has a decent sized dose of glucose with it. Glucose has a synergistic effect with caffeine and in studies has been shown to have a much stronger effect in increasing energy and mental acuity than either caffeine or glucose alone. We obviously want the strongest effect we can get, so adding some sugar to that caffeine will make a big difference.

    In my opinion, that means the best option here is going to be something small and easy to drink, or normal sized and at a temperature allowing rapid consumption. Personally, my two drinks of choice are either an iced coffee loaded up with sugar or a double shot or more of espresso loaded up with sugar. If you want to get a little crazy you can always go for an iced green eye (triple shot in a drip coffee) with sugar.

    Normally I would consider dumping sugar into any form of coffee upsetting – I like mine black – but in this case we’re not out to enjoy this as a beverage we’re approaching this as a dose of a drug. That being said, I don’t recommend turning to soft drinks or energy drinks for a caffeine nap. If you have to, fine, but those things are full of a ton of other crap that’s just not good for you. No reason to not go with the better option if you’ve got the choice.

  2. Take a Fifteen Minute Nap – Now that you’ve downed your dose of drugs, lay down somewhere comfy and dark for a fifteen minute nap. Be absolutely sure to only nap for fifteen minutes. Set a loud, annoying alarm that’s guaranteed to wake you up to make sure you don’t exceed it.

    Much more than fifteen minutes of sleep and your brain will begin to shut down so it can go into repair mode and defragment. Once it does that booting it back up is a long, difficult process. That means you’re going to feel like crap again when you wake up which is definitely not the goal. Everyone’s a little different, but keeping it to no longer than fifteen minutes is a pretty good general rule.

    Don’t worry if you can’t really fall asleep. Just laying there and dozing a little works nearly as well since it allows your brain to start recovering without diving all the way into full on REM sleep. Just make sure to hold to the fifteen minute rule. When that alarm goes off you get up and go back about your day no matter what.

That’s it! Two easy steps and you’re done. Done right and you should feel a ton better – maybe not 100%, but enough to finish out the day with a minimum of pain before you can get to bed and get an actual good night’s sleep.

Caffeine Nap Artistry

The best part the caffeine nap is that it’s versatile. You can play around with it a lot to find ways to make it better or more convenient for you. You can have one first thing in the morning to give yourself an extra boost immediately if you wake up mid-REM sleep and feel groggy. You can leave a pad and pen nearby when you take them or have Evernote ready to catch any inspiration that may pop up as you wake back up (people often find inspiration coming out of sleep, adding a couple nootropics to that is a recipe for interesting ideas). If you’re worried about needing a refresh on the read unexpectedly, or you just hate yourself enough to do them this way instead of with coffee, you can keep a bottle of 5 Hour Energy and four or five sugar packets in your glove compartment.

The more you play around with them the more you’ll find ways to make it work better for you.

Have you tried caffeine naps before? How’d it go? Have any little adjustments or tips you think make them better? Share them with everyone in the comments!

Photo Credit: PoYang

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

Explored #1 by Bethan

There’s some time, grab it!

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

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

Bullshit.

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

There Are 24 Hours in a Day

Assuming you are on Earth and not off somewhere traveling at such speeds as to be strongly affected by time dilation then you have twenty four hours in your day to play with. No more, no fewer. This has always been the case since the day you were born. It’s not as though you will ever have to worry about adjusting to having fewer hours per day to manage.

So how is it exactly that you don’t have enough time?

Think of everyone who has ever achieved greatness throughout the entire span of human history – Archimedes, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Ford, Jobs and anyone else you can think of who was successful – do you know how many hours they had to work with in a day?

Twenty four.

Same as you.

So clearly, ‘finding the time’ is not the issue. Inspirational men and women through time have demonstrably proven there to be ample time here on Earth to accomplish wonderfully incredible things, let alone the generally mundane stuff that most people use this excuse for. If Michelangelo can find the time to paint the Sistine Chapel, I’m reasonably certain you can find the time to workout three times a week.

Now I know that some of you are already going to start whining to the effect of, ‘You’re being too literal, when we say we don’t have the time we don’t mean the hours aren’t there we’re just too busy‘. Alright. Fine.

Still bullshit.

You Probably Suck at Managing Your Time

Most people just flat out suck at managing time. Certainly if you’re the kind of person who finds him or herself thinking that you wish you could do something but just don’t have the time to or are too busy then I can nearly guarantee you’re wretched at time management.

People love to say they’re too busy like it’s some kind of insurmountable external obstacle that they are in no way culpable for as it’s clearly dictated by forces beyond their control. It makes them feel like it’s not their fault for not trying to do whatever it is they wish they could do. It externalizes responsibility.

I think one of the biggest reasons people do this is fear. I think many people are just too terrified to fail so they’d rather stay stagnant where it’s comfortable and never even try. In reality you should embrace failure. It’s not something you should be afraid of.

People don’t want to admit they’re too scared to try though so they claim they don’t have the time to do it as a convenient excuse.

If you are someone, however, who honestly feels like you don’t have enough time to accomplish the things you want to accomplish then sit down one day and write out everything you did for every hour of the day up to that point. You can even go through and list everything you did that whole week if you’re feeling ambitious.

How much time did you spend watching TV? How much time did you spend on Facebook, or playing video games, or things like that?

If you’re anything like the average American you probably spend about three hours per day watching TV and about an hour per day playing games. That’s four hours everyday that you could devote to whatever it is you wish you could get done. That’s a full 1/6th of your whole day. More if you don’t count time spent sleeping.

You don’t even have to give up those full four hours, even shaving one off will make a big difference.

The question comes down to which is genuinely more important to you, being fit, learning a language or whatever it is you want to achieve or not missing Game of Thrones.

Reclaiming Your Time

The real key to it comes down to reclaiming your time for your own. Figuring out what your goals are and then, rather than making excuses for why you can’t pursue them, doing everything in your power to make it work. Here are a handful of tips to help you get started.

  • Prioritize – Figure out what is really important to you and cut out all the things you spend time on that don’t actually bring you toward something important. Don’t mistake this for a suggestion that all leisure time is evil, I watch TV and play video games too, the key is in knowing how much is too much.

  • Make Things Fun – If cutting down on things like TV and relaxation time are genuinely killing you, work to find things that are fun or help you relax that also further your goals, at least passively. If you want to be more fit, go play basketball or go for a walk instead of planting yourself in front of a TV or computer. If you’re looking to learn a new language watch TV in your target language instead of your native one. Find ways to combine your relaxation time with something helpful.

  • Eliminate Distractions – A great deal of time is wasted because the nature of our modern world is one rife with distractions. It’s common now to have all of your social networks right in your pocket, jumping and chirping with every update in an attempt to drag your attention away from whatever other thing you were engaged with. When you add on to that the time devouring void that is the Internet it’s easy to lose track of what you’re doing.

    Do whatever needs to be done to eliminate all of these distractions. Turn your phone off and put it in another room. Get a program like Rescue Time or one that shuts of your Internet if you don’t need it for your task. Whatever it takes – the key is to remove the temptation to engage with and become entranced by potential diversions.

  • Get Rid of Your TV – I think there are plenty of good reasons to give away your TV. Having a TV in your living room or bedroom is just an invitation to sit around and waste time. Get rid of it.

    That’s not to say that you shouldn’t watch any TV, just that it should be a focused activity like everything else you do. A lot of people just plop down in front of their set and then go hunting to see what’s on. Instead, pick what you want to watch beforehand, seek it out and watch it and be done. Hulu and Netflix are both great for this. We have a handful of shows we enjoy enough to watch deliberately like The Walking Dead, but we don’t spend much other time watching TV. As a result we spend an average of less than an hour a day watching things, and since I see all the shows I want to see I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

  • Recapture Down Time – There are a lot of small chunks of time spread throughout the day that tend to just get lost. These are moments in-between things or while you’re waiting. Moments spent in line for your espresso, waiting for a file to download or standing around until the elevator arrives.

    All of these moments can be recaptured and spent doing something very little that adds up into something substantial when leveraged over days and weeks. Pulling out your phone and doing three Memrise sessions takes a grand total of maybe five or six minutes. Three Memrise sessions adds up to about 15 new words, add in another five minutes to refresh old memories and in ten minutes per day you can learn 15 new words.

    You certainly can pull ten minutes together throughout the day, especially since it doesn’t have to be all at once. Doing a Memrise session every time you have to wait for the elevator in your building barely counts as effort, but compounded over two months that’s about 1,000 new words you’ve learned.

  • Timebox – Using timeboxing is an excellent way not only to ensure that you get everything on your to-do list done, but also to help motivate you to tackle the bigger tasks that you’ve been dreading. Best of all since the very nature of timeboxing, setting a specific temporal constraint beyond which you’re forbidden to work on a given task, means that it directly restricts you from getting too absorbed in one project to have time for everything else you need to work on.

These are just a few things you can do to ‘find the time’ that you swear you don’t have to accomplish your goals. If you can think of any others you particularly like definitely leave a comment and share them with everyone. Let us know too what you’re going to go out an accomplish now that the bullshit excuse of not enough time has been put to rest.

Photo Credit: Bethan

Five Ways to Mitigate Travel Mishaps

Plane at Dalian Airport by Caroline Wik

Ensure your time away is as good as it can be.

In a dream world, we could travel or go on vacation and have absolutely nothing go wrong. Nothing. No missing baggages, no unexpectedly awful hotel experiences; everything would happen on time and just as planned.

If you’ve traveled a lot though, you’d probably laugh at the thought. A trip where your expectations and hopes are met?! Crazy talk!

It is an unfortunate reality that something is bound to go wrong, but you don’t have to let that spoil your trip. You certainly don’t have to lower your expectations so low that you’re just miserable. There are things you can do to prevent things from going wrong, and if something does go wrong, there are ways to mitigate the damage too.

Embrace Minimalism

We’ve talked about minimalism a lot before, both in reference to travel and in reference to general quality of life, but it bears repeating – being a minimalist at least when you travel can make your life a lot easier.

When we traveled in our pre-minimalist days, we took way too many things and this caused us innumerable headaches. In one instance, we had two checked suitcases packed to the brim on our way home from China and neither of them were at baggage claim waiting for us. Not only did we waste a lot of time trying to get a hold of someone to help us locate our bags and eventually file a lost baggage claim, but we also suffered the stress and emotional consequences of being too attached to things.

Thankfully, we got a knock on our door at three-freaking-a.m. by a kind airport employee with our recovered luggage. We got lucky, admittedly. Baggage is lost all the time at airports. Trying to keep track of hundreds if not thousands of bags is tough, and so losses are bound to happen sometimes. This experience really made us re-examine our priorities and packing style.

Headaches from taking too much can happen from more than just baggage claim though; you inevitably lose things in the hotel, transporting those bags to and from the airport and your hotel is a pain and they only wind up being an unnecessary source of stress. It’s unnecessary because the majority of what people pack with them are all unnecessary items. You just don’t need so many things. On our most recent trip, we managed to pack everything we needed – clothes, extra shoes, a laptop and a minimal amount of toiletries into one backpack. That was the least we’ve ever taken, and honestly the freedom it gave us was invaluable – freedom from worry, freedom to be more mobile, freedom to be flexible with our plans, so on and so forth.

Carefully examine what you plan on taking and pare it down to only the absolute essentials, ideally enough that you can carry it onto the plane with you. The more control you keep over your possessions, the easier trips to the airport and hotel will be.

Don’t Set Too Rigid Schedules

The more you try to schedule and plan every minute of your trip, the more you set yourself up for stress, headaches and disappointment. You’re lowering the amount of control you have and increasing your dependency upon others – on something to not delay your flight, transportation to run on time and for traffic to be ideal.

The easiest and, in my opinion, best way to take back that control is to give yourself some freedom. Take your time, enjoy the journey and be careful not to plan things too close together so you have ample time to get from place to place.

We’ve all had problems arise from situations out of our control like traffic on the way to the airport or an activity running long. Part of our study-abroad in China included our weekends being carefully planned, minute-by-minute and so not only were we not free to enjoy and spend extra time on things we found enjoyable or interesting, like exploring the gorgeous Summer Palace, but if one of us in the group took too long we would be literally sprinting to the bus and, lacking good judgment, the bus driver would drive recklessly to get us to the next location on time. He always got us there, somehow alive.

Long Corridor at the Beijing Summer Palace by Caroline Wik

Hi, welcome to the longest painted corridor in the world (728 meters!) You have five minutes until we leave.

So don’t over-schedule yourself or plan things out too rigidly. Give yourself time to not only enjoy your precious time spent there, but also space between activities so if there is an unexpected mishap in transit you won’t be left sweating about a missed reservation or time lost.

Check Your Expectations

Be careful of what it is that you are expecting – especially if traveling overseas. Obviously you can’t expect everything to run perfectly, but don’t expect everywhere else to be the same or have the same standards as the United States, or where ever you are from.

Customs and definitions of terms vary from place to place so it’s important to not hold other countries to our cultural norms and standards. For example, we were told the dorm we’d be staying at in China was new, very modern and swanky. And it was. Except that we didn’t have hot water past 7:00 a.m. (for reference, our classes didn’t begin until 9:00 a.m.), we were given a washing machine to do laundry but no dryer and furthermore we could never have guessed that we’d be awoken at 5:00 a.m. by actual gongs to wake up construction workers building more dorms near ours.

Not to mention, running the shower meant flooding the bathroom because there was no divider on the floor to keep the shower water contained.

I learned very quickly not only how to do laundry and just how long clothes take to hang-dry, but also not to wait until all but one outfit is dirty to wash them.

Your hotel may have plumbing, but that doesn’t mean you can get it anywhere near your mouth nor that it’ll be hot on-demand. Your hotel may be a 4-star hotel, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a 4-star hotel by American standards.

I’m not saying you should expect the worst or for everything to go horribly wrong – but you should be careful about what you do expect. Your accommodations may be amazing – just not all day. Don’t expect it to be perfect, don’t expect it to be terrible, and don’t let it ruin your trip.

Expect the Unexpected

Along with being careful of what you expect, you can be guaranteed that unexpected things will happen. You can mitigate some of it by being proactive with things like being a minimalist traveler as noted above, but you can’t plan for every possible scenario. Sometimes, there’s simply nothing you can do either.

Learning to accept unexpected things happening and just rolling with the flow is tough, but it’s a valuable skill to have.

Getting sick on trips to new countries is almost a guaranteed “unexpected” thing to happen. It wasn’t until our third week in Seoul that I got hit with some kind of illness. I hadn’t eaten in a day and Adam insisted I try to eat something. I felt awful that my sickness was ruining not just my trip – but his too – and so I suggested we tried Chicken Lady’s* since it was a restaurant we had been past many times and he was very eager to try it.

I composed myself as best as I could and we walked a few blocks over to Chicken Lady’s and took our seat. I strained myself to read the only-Korean menu and we ordered. As the food cooked on the table-top grill I could feel myself getting dizzier and dizzier, and my stomach turning increasingly more. I suddenly told Adam that I had to leave. Now.

I literally jumped out of my seat and ran.

I was optimistic that I could make it back to our room, only a couple blocks away, but I couldn’t even make it to the street corner, where I did the unthinkable. I threw up in the street. When I looked back, Adam and the great Chicken Lady herself had seen it all.

On the bright side my stomach had settled.

Sick and ashamed I stumbled back to the restaurant and sat back down with Adam at our table. Chicken Lady disappeared into the kitchen and came back with bottles of 7-Up and patted my back. She said a bunch of things in Korean so quickly I could have never hoped to understand any of it with how poor my Korean was at the time. One thing did translate though – her kindness. She took care of us for the rest of our brief time there and as we left I asked Adam to tip. We knew that Korea doesn’t really do tips – but I wanted to give them something extra since she gave us sodas and things for free and showed us more care and kindness than I could have ever expected (and have yet to experience again) and because I was way too embarrassed to ever go there again. So I wanted to sort of pre-pay for a meal that I would theoretically have eaten in the future.

She didn’t accept our extra money, and chased us down to give us our change. Without being able to speak Korean well enough at the time to explain (and being way too scatterbrained to even try) our gratitude and what we were attempting to do, we just had to let it go. We went back to our room and just stayed there for the rest of the day until I was better, then promptly resumed our adventure.

I’m not saying you should expect something horrible like throwing up in the middle of the road, but you also never know when you’ll stumble upon something (or someone) incredible either. Expect mis-communications, that you may get sick, to get lost and to have to make compromises. Savor the great moments, accept the bad and move on.

More often than not it’s the unexpected things that you’ll remember the most – hopefully fondly. Even if it is something bad like my getting sick was, there may also be something unexpectedly nice that goes along with it like Chicken Lady’s unexpected care.

Not to mention, it appears the notion that 7-Up cures upset stomachs is universal. Who knew?

*We don’t remember the name of the restaurant, just that the sign had a woman’s face on a chicken’s body and so we refer to it as “Chicken Lady’s”.

Be Mindful and Choose Your Reactions

Most importantly, practicing mindfulness and living in the moment will get you the farthest in terms of having a great vacation or journey. You have control over how you react to things going wrong, whether you will worry about the past or the future, something going horribly wrong, or cross-cultural mis-communications.

It’s up to you if you let these things get to you and worry over every single little thing. If I hadn’t learned to just accept the bad things that happened and instead be grateful that I had the opportunities and adventures that I did I’m not sure I would have made it out sane.

Rather than complain about the gongs and cold water, we took the opportunity to go ahead and get up early. We’d sit on the rooftop of the dorm and watch the absolutely gorgeous sunrises over the East China Sea. Learning to be mindful will help you to see through the bad events that happen and make them less bad, if not good.

Take it slow, do things deliberately, whole-ass one thing – these are just a few ways you can practice mindfulness. Make a habit of being mindful well before you travel. On the road is no place to try to pick up new habits or virtues.

It’s not easy to change your habits – as they say nothing worth doing is easy – but begin working on it now. Don’t eat in a hurry or in front of the television but rather eat intentionally. Pay attention to every bite you take, to the flavors of the dish. Get into the habit of stopping when a situation or thing becomes stressful and take a breath – go for a quick walk if you must – this pause will help you refocus and to think more calmly. When you are stressed and distracted is the worst time to be making important decisions.

If and when things go wrong, or unexpected things happen, it’s up to you how you’ll react. Whether you hyperventilate, scream, have a panic attack and faint in the middle of the airport or if you take a deep breath, accept it, begin working through it and remember that in the future you’ll probably laugh about it – it’s all in your control.

You Can Only Control Yourself

Taking steps to ensure that your trip will be as stress-free as possible isn’t difficult, but it will take work. Examining and minimizing what you choose to take with you, planning some activities but not over-planning, setting the right expectations and learning to be mindful and in control of your reactions are only a few ways you can ensure a great trip but the impact from them is enormous.

The true value in travel isn’t the souvenirs, the cattle-like shuffle to see every single tourist attraction, nor about how fabulous you looked the whole time, but rather in the personal growth, the journey, the sights, experiences and people you’ll encounter.

What things or strategies have you employed to ensure your travels are stress-free and enjoyable? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

2012 to 2013: A Year in Review

Ashinoko Dreams by Les Taylor

Getting to Japan was one goal that we didn’t accomplish this year.

Being my birthday today, it’s time for another annual review.

It’s been a really long year this time around the Sun, and I plan on doing this review a little differently than ones I’ve done in the past, hopefully to dig in a little deeper and figure out what went well, what didn’t go so well, and most importantly what things I need to change moving forward.

Rather than focus so much on goals like I have in the past, instead I’m going to focus on what I did, what went wrong, what went right and then where I need to go from here in that order. To keep things simple I’m going to try to focus on picking 3 to 5 things for each category so I don’t get too carried away. So let’s get started!

What I Did This Year

  • Left a job teaching English that I despised for one as a personal trainer that I enjoy

  • Published several short fiction stories.

  • Wrote our 60-page getting started eBook.

  • Became an early riser.

  • Wrote over 50,000 words in 30 days.

  • Hit the lowest bodyfat percentage of my adult life.

What I’m Most Proud Of

  • Planning, finishing and publishing our ebook.

  • Getting in the best shape of my life and continuing to improve.

  • Escaping a job that was killing me for one I actually like.

Finishing the ebook was a pretty big project, but we were able to plan everything out, break it into smaller more manageable tasks and rock the whole thing out in a much more efficient manner than I originally expected. In addition to being really pleased with how well it turned out I’m also happy at how fun of an overall experience it wound up being. It almost never felt like work and when I got into the zone I really loved working on it.

To be fair the fitness achievements were a long time in coming and certainly not down to only work put in this past year, but still. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in the past year and even more proud of the fact that I continue to improve.

Leaving my job as an English teacher was also a big jump since I abandoned a stable, decently paying job to basically be unemployed while I got the necessary certifications taken care of to be hired as a personal trainer at a gym with no actual guarantee any gym would be hiring. It turned out well and I’m happy I had the guts to go for it rather than doing what was easy.

How I’ve Improved

  • I’ve recaptured my focus / drive.

  • I’ve started to focus more on the future.

  • I’ve gained a lot of control over myself.

For a decent stretch of time there, particularly when I was working the most teaching English, I lost a lot of the drive that had enabled me previously to get a lot done. It was a combination of a lot of things, and a big chunk of it was coming home after work and pretty much just wanting to collapse, but I’ve since recaptured my focus. Now even on days when I feel like absolute crap I can pull things together enough to get what I need to do done.

I also had a bad habit of focusing on the past. The death of my grandma this past April caused me to reflect on a lot of things – it still is, she was like a parent to me and frankly I’m still crushed by it. Part of that reflection was realizing that I need to shift my focus to where I’m going and learn to worry less about where I’ve been and things that I have no power to change.

A lot of the control I’ve gained over myself relates to ignoring my compulsions to resist work, particularly when I’m in a bad mood. It might just be my escape from a soul-crushing job, but I’m much more able to suppress my desire for comfort in order to accomplish the tasks I’ve set for myself.

What I’ve Learned

  • Never miss an opportunity to let someone know how much you care about them.

  • Taking social risks opens up countless more opportunities than being introverted.

  • A little progress toward a task each day for a long enough period adds up to be huge.

My grandma lived in an addition on to my parents’ house. We were over at my parents’ house one day to pick some things up and, rather than stop back into Grandma’s house to say hi and visit for a bit before leaving, I figured I’d just see her next time and we left. Two days later my mom called to tell me she had passed away. Never miss an opportunity.

I’ve worked a lot this past year to be more social – growing up I was the fat, nerdy, super-awkward kid so I’ve always been kind of on the shy side. Learning to be a lot more social and work on my social anxiety has been extremely beneficial and not only helped me create a lot of new friendships but opened up a lot of opportunities.

Between finishing my books and, more lately, the beginnings of our latest challenge I’ve found that stable, consistent productivity gets a lot more done than my normal, manic-burst style. Being able to work on our books daily, little by little, added up to a much larger volume of work than I ever could have accomplished in much smaller frantic sprints. I’ll be harnessing this method a lot more often in the future.

What I’d Do Differently

  • Get on a more consistent work schedule.

  • Check more frequently to ensure what I’m doing is getting me toward my long term goals.

  • Take more frequent opportunities to have fun and relax.

All last year my work schedule was inconsistent and frantic. As a result, some things got done very quickly and efficiently like the book while other things fell way behind where they should’ve been like the couple spans on here and on our other site One Clean Plate that went by with zero new posts written.

Checking more frequently to make sure that what I was working on was actually taking me in the direction of my long term goals is another thing that would’ve benefited me greatly this past year. There were a handful of times I think I drifted a little, or lost focus on where I was trying to go and as a result it was difficult sometimes to figure out what I really needed to be doing.

Lastly, the fact that I had such an inconsistent work schedule meant I tended to go overboard when I did work and burn myself out completely. That meant long, non-productive chill out times in order to recover which tended to be really counterproductive and hard to climb back out of. I think I would’ve been a lot more productive and successful if, rather than working myself to the bone, I had made a point of taking time out in intervals throughout those periods to relax and go have some fun.

What I Need to Stop Doing

  • Wasting so much time.

  • Trying to chase too many goals at once.

  • Depending on work from a company for income over my own projects

The first two are things I’ve definitely progressed in but still need some work with. A lot of my time wasting this past year has come from my issue with burning myself out completely and then needing a few days of moping around and relaxing to recover. That definitely needs to stop. I also have a bad habit of taking on way more projects at once than I can juggle and then having everything fall apart. That’s got to stop too.

Lastly I really need to get to a point where I’m not relying on income from an employer for survival. I am finally in work I genuinely enjoy as a personal trainer, but I don’t want it to be what I subsist off of. I’d like the freedom of knowing the income streams that support me come from my own projects and that I can work as a personal trainer more as a choice and less as a necessity.

What I Need to Start Doing

  • Go out and socialize more.

  • Take more action on goals.

  • Sticking to a consistent schedule.

Like I mentioned earlier in the article I recognize that a lot of success is determined not so much by how much you know or how good you are at something but by who you know. You can argue the merits of that kind of system up and down, but regardless I find it in practice to be true. As a result, I think my chances of being able to do the things I want to do and take on the kinds of projects I’d like to take on will be benefit immensely by my getting out and socializing more, particularly with like-minded people.

In a similar vein I need to talk less about my goals and work more toward them. I’ve always been a compulsive planner and as a result I sometimes over-plan and over-analyze and as a result never get to the part where I actually act on my goals. Going forward I need to focus a lot more on the action.

I also need a more consistent schedule to make sure I get what I need to do done. My experiences with this latest challenge and the Seinfeld productivity method have reinforced my notion that consistent regular work is a much better way to get things done. Getting on a better schedule will facilitate this change.

Why I Succeeded

  • I was willing to make risky decisions.

  • I focused intently on certain projects.

  • I didn’t allow myself to worry about things.

Why I Failed

  • I overestimated my own abilities and diligence.

  • I destroyed myself working fanatically on certain projects.

  • I didn’t spend enough time considering what I wanted out of life.

Those last handful I think are fairly self-explanatory.

That’s my 25th year of life in review. How has your current year been going so far? What are somethings you’ve done well? What are some things you need to fix? Leave a comment and let me know.

Photo Credit: Les Taylor

Is Your Inner Monologue Helping or Hurting Your Success? Four Ways to Change Your Mindset and Be More Positive

The Mighty Hunter by James M. Turley

“Thoughts become things.” – Buddha

Before you begin a task or attempt to learn something new, does it make sense to first insult yourself or the subject? To tell yourself that it’s hard or you aren’t smart enough to do it?

It’s not intentional, but often people do it anyway. It’s forgivable – our brains do appear to be wired for negativity, or we remember negative experiences more often than positive ones. However, it’s not inexcusable forever. As soon as you want to do something new or need to gain a new skill, your mindset and how you approach it can have a huge impact on whether or not you will succeed.

Sometimes it’s a memory from childhood (negative emotions around something you had a bad experience with coming back to haunt you) or a cultural negativity toward a subject (X language is HARD!) or a simple fear of failure. There’s lots of ways negativity infects our thoughts and impacts our performance and ability to learn new things.

To make matters worse these negative thoughts not only hurt your chances of success, they also increase your stress levels which leads to, among many things, elevated cortisol, decreased memory, weight gain (or difficulty losing) and disrupted sleep. You are pretty much screwed. Except that you’re not.

The more you allow these negative thoughts to seep into your brain, the more you become them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, so-to-speak. But you can break this negative mindset and instead retrain yourself to think positively. Vain affirmations not necessary.

Four Ways to Change Your Mindset and Be More Positive

1. Practice Mindfulness

Being mindful is to pay attention to the present moment without judgment, or “living in the now.” When you are mindful you are focused on the task at hand – not distracted by other things or, worse, past experiences or worrying about the future. In other words, practicing mindfulness allows you to be more balanced and positive which will then enhance your mental performance.

So how can you practice being more mindful? You can start meditating daily or, if you prefer moving meditation give that a try. By taking breaks to clear your mind, doing one thing at a time and being slow and deliberate about it and paying attention to your thoughts to prohibit worrying about the past or future you will slowly build the habit of mindfulness.

Want another reason to practice mindfulness? There is some evidence that being mindful can increase the gray matter in the brain’s hippocampus, an area of the brain important for learning, memory and emotion, while also reducing gray matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.

2. Redefine Failure

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

Have you failed yet today?

Changing your attitude toward failure can go a long way to giving you a more positive attitude and getting rid of negative thinking. Don’t treat your failures as something to be ashamed of, be proud of them! Through your failures you not only learn, but you also grow in your experience and insights.

If a fear of failure is preventing you from even beginning to take action, take a closer look at it. What will happen if you fail? What are the possible scenarios? How can you prevent the worst? And, most importantly, if the worst happens anyway, is it the end of the world?

The answer to that last one is that, more likely than not, it wont be the end of the world. Like Henry Ford was getting at, you need to remind yourself that when you do fail that the world isn’t over; You can still take action, or get back up and try again, this time a little wiser than you were before.

Not convinced? Need more reasons to go fail? We recently posted an article just on Why You Need to Go Out And Fail.

3. Be Diligent

When you are studying Chinese grammar you can complain about how hard it is or you can, using smart techniques, keep working on it bit by bit every day.

If you are taking on a huge project it can get overwhelming and a little voice in the back of your head might start telling you that it’s impossible to complete. The negatives thoughts can paralyze you – if you let them.

When those negative thoughts creep into your head take a moment to refocus, take a break if you need to. Divide the huge task into small, manageable chunks and have some way to positively reward yourself when you have completed your smaller goals, preferably with something like a nice green check mark on a calendar to indicate your progress and success.

Over time, the small successes build up and not only boost your overall optimism and positivity toward that particular goal, but you will be able to apply these same principles toward other goals you take on.

4. Take Control

Taking control is probably the most important of all of these lessons. Positive people don’t just have a good day, and success doesn’t just happen by accident – they make these things happen.

One of the causes of stress and self-directed negativity are hopes and wishes lacking action. Being passive won’t get you closer to your goals and most certainly won’t bring you success. Be pro-active and actively work toward success, whatever that may look like for you. Whether it’s constructing your ideal life, being able to speak another language, starting a business or getting healthier.

You have control over your actions and reactions – you have a choice. The more you are passive about goals and creating systems and situations that move you closer to success, the wider the gap gets between you and positivity and success.

I know it’s ridiculous to just expect everyone to suddenly change their actions, but it’s not ridiculous to suggest that you make it a habit. By combining the above advice about mindfulness with the goal of taking more control, you can slowly build this into a habit. Be mindful, take note of negative or passive thoughts and actions, and build the habit of changing them into action and positivity.

Being positive is ultimately about mindful action and re-framing typically negative situations like failure.

Have you struggled with negative thoughts? What has or hasn’t worked for you? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Photo Credit: James M. Turley

Stop Fishing: Overcoming the Drug of Consumerism

Consumerism Explained by Vermin Inc

Is there any more iconic symbol of consumerism?

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

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

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

So how do we break out of the consumerist cycle?

The First World’s Drug of Choice

To understand how best to escape the cycle it’s important to first have an idea of how it works and why it’s so heinous in the first place.

The consumerist cycle primarily operates by creating a deep sense of loss that leads to a sense of need. When you see someone with something new and cool that seems to make them happy you want to be happy too. Not also having this item that’s making the other person happy makes you feel like you’re missing out which creates a strong internal sense of loss.

Loss, as a motivating factor, is much more powerful to humans than a sense of potential gain. Studies have shown that people who have to do something or lose $5 are much more likely to do it than people who have to do something to earn $5. This sense of loss about missing out on the feeling of having this thing is a powerful motivator that strongly encourages you to buy it.

What does that lead to though? As soon as the next thing comes around that sense of loss returns – possibly stronger if reinforced by being rewarded with a shiny new thing last time it came around.

If you look around at the kind of life most people fall into all of their work tends to amount to fulfilling the next step in that cycle. You work to buy a house, a car, a new phone and then once you have them you work more to get a bigger house, a newer car or a better phone.

Then what? The same thing again.

Over and over you repeat this cycle and eventually you die. If you were successful in the consumerist cycle you leave behind a lot of crap for your kids, if you weren’t successful you don’t.

That’s it.

Do You Really Want Fish?

Shopping - Ecstasy by David Blackwell

If you think every shopping experience should feel like this, you’re probably caught in the cycle.

You’re fishing, like Thoreau said, but have you ever actually asked yourself if it’s fish you want?

When you spend your whole day toiling away in a job you may or may not enjoy casting your nets so can have more money, a better TV, or whatever other thing to cram into the nagging sense of lack instilled in you by advertising and society in general is that really what you want?

Some people might say yes and, while I suspect you’re deluded and just haven’t fully considered the alternative, if you want to follow the same cycle of purchasing new things only to work hard the following year to purchase more of the same things then that’s your choice.

Personally, I find that type of life void of any kind of meaning. I find that type of a life terrifying. To think of going to my grave having done nothing but collect successively newer things is repugnant to me in its wastefulness.

Worst in my opinion is it’s difficult to pull people out of this consumerist cycle because in addition to being socially pervasive it’s a really effective psychological drug. Now I’m not insane enough to think this is some kind of conspiracy or anything – it’s just a reflection of a basic human psychological weakness that’s turned out to be awfully profitable. Regardless that makes it all the more difficult to snap people out of it.

Suggestions for a Life Worth Living

I would feel slightly hypocritical denigrating a particular approach at finding happiness in life through possessions as being followed blindly then declaring that the approach to life I espouse is the true way and you should take my word for it.

So I’m not going to tell you my way is best. It works for me and I do intend to share my own suggestions, but I want you sit down and think for yourself about what you really want in life.

At its root one of the reasons the consumerist cycle is so awful is that its accepted blindly when its pushed onto us by society. We’re all brought up being told we need to fish. We’re inundated by media and a societal model that whispers incessantly in our ears that we would be happier if only we had this fish or that fish and so we start fishing, never asking ourselves if we decided we wanted fish or if it was decided for us. WE wind up press ganged into pescetarianism.

So ask yourself if it’s what you really want and, if it isn’t, do something about it.

When I realized that I had the choice I decided that a life spent devoted to material things was not something that brought me real happiness. (Tweet this.)

I feel that overall the worth of a person is tied most strongly not to what they have, or even what they are, but what they can do and have done. Additionally I’ve learned that experiences bring me much more consistent, lasting and fulfilling happiness than things.

That’s led me to pursue experiences, skills and relationships over things. Finally getting that new super high tech TV is something that, as soon as the next, better TV comes out, I will completely forget about. Getting to have meaningful conversations with someone in another country because I took the time to learn to speak a new language is something that will stick with me forever.

Small Steps to Stop Fishing

So what are some things you can do to break out of the cycle?

  • Give Minimalism a Try – Minimalism doesn’t mean getting rid of everything and living like a hermit. It just means closely examining all the things you have and deciding whether they’re genuinely a benefit or a burden. If you want an easy but effective first step, get rid of your TV. We did a while back and I’m extremely happy about it.

  • Invest in Skills and Experiences – A good rule is to always ask, in making this purchase am I investing money in myself or in something else? Am I going to improve personally or develop as a person having done this? It’s not to say every single thing you do has to be focused on personal development, but making it a priority will go a long way. Take a class, practice a new skill, try out a brand new experience, invest in something you’ll actually remember in ten years.

  • Go Travel – Travel is one of the easiest ways to force yourself to go have new experiences, meet new people and expose yourself to new ideas. Don’t make your trip about souvenirs or you run the risk of kind of missing the whole point. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be wealthy to travel either. Travelling cheap can be easy and it often leads to more experiences, you just have to be creative.

The most important thing is to constantly check up on yourself to ensure you’re doing what you genuinely want to be doing and aren’t pursuing a goal that you unconsciously assimilated from your environment, friends or family.

Do you have any suggestions for escaping the cycle of consumerism? Do you think I’m completely wrong on the whole thing and consumerism isn’t a big deal? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: Paul Hocksenar, David Blackwell

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

Around the World in 80 Days the board game.

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

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

Verne’s novel was published in 1873 and in 1888 brave young journalist Nellie Bly pressured her editors to let her test the book’s basis. She was known for her audacity and willingness to put her life on the line to uncover a story – most notably when she faked being insane so she could bring to light the horrors of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. It took her a year to convince her editor, but eventually she was allowed to go. She was 25 years old.

The day she left for her journey the paper she worked for published an article announcing the trip. An editor for a competing paper saw the article on his way into work. Once there he called into his office the timid Elizabeth Bisland, who at the time was only 28 years old, and told her to go pack her things and be on the 6:00 p.m. train to San Francisco. She was instructed to beat Nellie Bly.

Newspaper clipping

Meet the Women

Nellie Bly

Before we tell you their story, let me first give you a bit of a background about these two women so you know what kind of people they were. Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, came from a humble family. Her father was a laborer who after years of hard work was able to buy the local mill and most of the land surrounding their home. His lesson of never giving up would stick with Bly for the rest of her life.

Nellie Bly

Unfortunately, her father died while she was still young and money quickly ran out – the family lost all their land and had only her mother to rely on. Her mother did eventually remarry but the man she married was abusive and a drunk; the marriage didn’t last long.

Through watching her mother’s struggles Bly learned that as a woman she couldn’t depend on anyone else – she had to be self-sufficient and strong. Which is why when a misogynistic article was published in the Pittsburgh Dispatch arguing that a woman belonged at home and at home alone, she was understandably upset and wrote a scathing rebuttal under a pseudonym. The editor of the paper liked the article so much he asked her to join the paper. Though he rescinded his offer once he learned that Bly was a female, she persuaded him to hire her anyway. It was a much better job than the work she was doing at the time being a maid. It was common for female journalists to take on a pen name rather than use their real name, and Elizabeth chose Nellie Bly.

Female reporters were a rarity at the time and for the few that were they weren’t allowed to write for anything other than the arts and gossip pages of the newspapers, but Bly was different. She refused – she was audacious and willing to risk her own personal safety to expose evils and mistreatment where ever she found it. Frustrated with the Dispatch for refusing to let her, she eventually talked her way into being a reporter at Joseph Pulitzer’s paper, the New York World. Her first story: pretend to be insane in order to be admitted to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island and investigate reports of patient abuse. These were the kinds of stories she loved most.

Elizabeth Bisland

Born on what was once a great sugar cane plantation, Elizabeth Bisland was almost the antithesis of Nellie Bly. A sophisticated, learned writer and poet, Bisland didn’t seek out the limelight but rather enjoyed a quieter existence.

Elizabeth Bisland

The Battle of Fort Bisland was fought on the estate Elizabeth Bisland was born on however the family fled during the war, relocating to a home her father had inherited. Using torn and burnt copies of Cervantes and Shakespeare she had found in her grandfather’s estate, Bisland taught herself first to read. Later, she taught herself French so she could read Rousseau’s Confessions in the original French text.

As a teenager Bisland often sent small works of her poetry to the New Orleans Times Democrat under a pen name, although once discovered she moved to New Orleans to write for the paper. Around 1887 she moved to New York and worked for various newspapers, eventually becoming an editor at Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Bly’s style was unrefined and coarse, while Bisland was more elegant and refined. Bly was also more adventurous and scrappy while Bisland was more interested in books and conversation. The only things they had in common were rough upbringings, an interest in writing and that both women would publish detailed accounts of the trip afterward.

The Challenge

In 1888 after having exposed the cruelty of the Mexican dictator and the horrors of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum, Nellie Bly had become fascinated with Jules Verne’s book Around the World in 80 Days and wanted to see if it were in fact possible to circumvent the Earth in 80 days or less. In modern times you could fly around the world in a plane in a couple days, but back then the most they had were steam ships and trains. She had a plan: she’d begin by catching a steam ship to England and would send back brief reports via a new technology, telegrams, and send longer reports via letter. There was a problem though that stopped her editor from allowing it: She was a woman.

Women shouldn’t go across town unescorted, why on earth should she be allowed to go alone around the world? Only a man could do this! Furthermore, she’s a woman: she’ll need 11 trunks worth of clothes and cosmetics that will slow her down trying to keep track of all those things and carrying them from place to place. These were some of the problems the editors of the New York World had with her trip. But that didn’t deter her – it hadn’t stopped her before and it wouldn’t this time either. But Bly wasn’t about to give up, she told them: send a man and I will go for another paper and I will beat him. They remained firm in their decision

A year later though she got a break. The World faced shrinking circulation and needed something to boost readership – a publicity stunt – and Joseph Pulitzer knew just the thing: Nellie Bly. He gave her a few days notice to pack her things and then she would be out. She left November 14, 1989.

On his way into work, Cosmopolitan Magazine owner and editor John Brisben Walker read the front page story in the World announcing Bly’s trip to see if Phileas Fogg’s fictional record of 80 days was possible and if she could beat it. Immediately, he knew this would be an incredible opportunity for him and his publication to get in on. So once he arrived at the office he called for a young writer to be brought to him – and it had to be a female. Literary editor Elisabeth Bisland – who was unaware of Bly’s trip – was called to his office and they exchanged brief greetings before he got to business: She needed to go home and pack her things and be on the next train to San Francisco because she was going to challenge and beat Nellie Bly around the world.

Bisland refused.

She gave excuses at first – she had dinner guests coming that night, she didn’t have enough time to pack, etc. But eventually he wore her down convinced her to go. Her real reason which she admitted to later was that she was a shy, studious and serious writer and as such she cherished her anonymity and privacy. She didn’t want publicity or celebrity – which she knew this would bring. She knew that this would be a sensational story and wanted no part in it. Bly on the other hand reveled that fact.

Bly had left that morning on a steamship east to England but Bisland’s editor believed it would be faster to travel West and so Bisland went via New York Central Railroad to San Francisco.

In Chicago Bisland talked her way onto a fast mail train headed straight for San Francisco. There was a $750,000 contract riding on that train being the fastest yet, and everyone else on the train was either a mail or railroad official. She was the only woman. In Utah the train stopped and changed engineers, the new one being Cyclone Bill Downing who was known for his lack of fear. A few minutes before 1:00 a.m., the train lead by Cyclone Bill Downing slowly began to move forward – but it wouldn’t last for long. He pushed the train to it’s limits careening up and down mountains, around passes, through tunnels and across long plains.

Derailment was common back then and everyone aboard feared the worst – and their nerves were not eased by the trains violent rocking and roar bouncing off the mountains. From the rear car passengers could see a spray of sparks trailing behind them like fire. Many aboard got seasick from the ride, and those that didn’t got sick from the smell of other’s being sick. One man writhed on the floor in terror and was handed brandy to help calm himself.

Bly didn’t have it any easier – she was on an actual ship for the first time and got seasick for a few days. To further complicate things other passengers had no idea why she was on the ship – especially alone. Rumors began circulating about her being an American heiress traveling to mend a broken heart, causing a number of single men to attempt to court her – several of them even proposing.

She eventually devised a plan to end the attention – she “confided” in another passenger that she wasn’t rich, but that a couple charities had raised money for her to go on a long trip to restore her health. The proposals ceased.

Once in England Bly met with a correspondent for the World that told her if she traveled overnight, didn’t sleep and made a few detours she could meet with Jules Verne at his estate in Amnion, France. She was ecstatic – who cares if she had to spend 48 hours straight awake and on the road? She got to meet an immensely famous author whom she respected and loved! While there, she even got to see the map he used to plot out his character’s journey and one he made of hers. He told her that if he beat the fictional record he’d applaud her. He was very supportive of her, even sending her a telegram when she made it to San Francisco to congratulate her.

The two women sent brief reports back via telegram, which the brilliant Joseph Pulitzer realized he could use for more than just status updates. He sponsored a contest for readers – whoever could guess closest to the second that Nellie Bly would arrive back in New York would win a free trip to Europe. Naturally, contestants had to purchase a paper first since the entry form was inside.

Pulitzer’s marketing scheme worked splendidly – the contest was huge and received nearly a million entries. He was careful to never mention Bisland and keep the focus on Bly. The winning entry was off by 2/5 of a second. Second place was off by 3/5 of a second. The contest and paper launched Bly into becoming one of the most famous women in the world at the time.

On the other hand, Cosmopolitan Magazine did a rather poor job of publicizing the race and brought much less attention to Bisland, which was okay since she didn’t want the attention anyway.

The race was neck-and-neck nearly the entire way. While Bisland knew her mission was to beat Bly, Bly had no idea she was racing against anyone else until she got to Hong Kong – about halfway through. The conversation with a ticket office employee went something like this:

Employee: You’re going to lose the race.

Bly: I don’t think so – I’m ahead of schedule.

Employee: Well, the other woman was here a few days ago and is ahead of you.

Bly: What? What other woman?!

The employee filled Bly in on the rest of the story, which greatly displeased her and made her more determined to go faster. On the ship from Japan to San Francisco Bly used her celebrity to convince the captain to go faster – and he did everything he could to get her there on time.

While the trip had its ups it also had its downs – bad weather, miscommunications, mechanical problems and conspirators slowed them down. In the end, it came down to Nellie Bly coming by train from San Francisco and Elizabeth Bisland by steam ship from Ireland. Either women could have won, and the world anxiously held its breath.

Spoiler Alert: Ultimately, Nellie Bly won. Thanks to a ticket salesman who lied to Bisland about missing one of her intended boats and forced her to catch a much slower ship which guaranteed Bly would prevail. Bly’s end time was 72 days 6 hours and 11 minutes while Bisland’s time was 76 and a half days.

Bly’s victory was celebrated with parades and much publicity – by this time she was more concerned with fame than with uncovering immoral actions and becoming more and more arrogant. She attempted to capitalize on it by going on a lecture circuit but it didn’t bode too well. Later s board game and an amusement park in Brooklyn would be made using her name and journey as their themes, however she didn’t profit from either.

Bisland’s return was much less grand although she was just as much changed. She was greeted by a small crowd of curious people and her sister. She wrote soon after returning that she wanted to live her life in such a way that her name would never again appear in a newspaper. However, she would continue to travel. The trip itself had broadened her outlook and opened her up to the world. She particularly loved Japan and would return many times.

Finally, the Seven Lessons Learned

There’s so much that can be gained from the lives of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland but I’ll just share a few of the more prominent things that stood out for me.

Screw Social Constraints

Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were unique – they were doing things during a time when women doing practically anything was frowned upon. While most women were being chaperoned to the store and back, Bly and Bisland were traveling the world alone.

Of course, that wasn’t all they did that was unique. During her early career (teens and early 20s) she would do anything required to expose social injustices – even if that meant going into an abusive insane asylum that she might not get out of (not to mention, many of the people there weren’t actually insane.)

Who cares what other people think of what your doing? Why let other’s opinions – which mean absolutely nothing – have an impact on your happiness? Be yourself, do the things you love, not what others have told you to do or love. Be different, and be proud. By doing this, you’ll encourage others to follow suit and do the things they love.

Things aren’t perfect, but everyone – male and female, and of all races – does have it a lot better than things were in the 1800s. If they could do amazing things then, you can do amazing things now. The only limits you have are the ones you set.

Take Risks

None of the things that happened in this story would have been possible if Bly and Bisland hadn’t taken risks. To me it seems that Bly threw all caution to the wind – she knew things would work out in the end if she was persistent.

Bisland wasn’t really one to attract attention to herself or go outside social norms, but yet she took those risks anyway – just in a very cautious way.

Bly took huge risks every time she did an investigative piece – she almost didn’t make it out of the asylum – but her risks paid off every time. People thought she was crazy for doing what she did but because of her life got better for a great number of people, and she even changed government policy to help protect people from abuses like the asylum.

The trip around the world was a huge risk for both women – not only was it dangerous for them to go alone, but if something did happen to them there would have been almost no way to know. There were no cell phones, GPS or cameras and investigative technology and practices were dubious – especially in the less developed countries they went to. But the trip was worth it. Both women learned so much from this trip, and society in general learned more about the world and grew more accepting of the idea of women being capable and able to handle themselves.

Whichever way suits you, you should take risks. Great or small, if you want something you need to be willing to take risks to get it. Maybe changing the world isn’t your thing – it doesn’t matter, even to get something selfish that you want (which is not necessarily a bad thing) there will be some risks involved. It may not be easy – but nobody said it would be. Of course risks have potential downsides, but whether or not you succeed you’ll come out ahead. If you fail, learn from it so you can try again in the future and hopefully then succeed. Take risks, learn from your failures and live without regrets.

You’ve only got one life, don’t waste it living someone else’s.

Travel!

Whether or not travel is something you are interested it, it’s something I highly recommend you do anyway. It’s not always visible at first but travel will change you.

It’s impossible to tell beforehand the exact ways that travel will affect you – it’s different for everyone. The only thing I can guarantee that it’ll do is change how you look at the world and give you a broader perspective than you could have imagined previously.

Furthermore, the world just isn’t scary – you have no excuse not to travel! If two women can muster up the courage to travel during a time when women couldn’t even go outside without a male escort, you can too.

Learning a Language isn’t Necessary for Travel

Bly didn’t speak a word of any language other than English, and while Bisland did speak some others she certainly didn’t speak the language of every country she went to, yet they got by. Things are even easier nowadays and so you can make it in nearly every country without using any language other than English.

There are certainly benefits of learning the language of the place you are going to, but if you aren’t going to stay for long or are only there to do touristy-type activities, then learning is not necessary.

You Have No Excuses NOT to Learn

You may not need to learn another language but if you want to, you really don’t have any excuses not to. Think about it, if Bisland could teach herself French in the 1800s from tattered books then YOU can learn ANY language NOW thanks to the INTERNET!

It’s not an easy task, but learning another language has gotten significantly easier thanks to the sheer amount of resources you have available to you right now for free. There are ways to get around money issues, if you really want it you will make or find time and with some strategic habit-building you can make yourself stick to it. The tools are all at your fingers – if Bisland could do it you can too.

Embrace Minimalism for a Simpler, Hassle-Free Life

Do you really need all those things? Really? Bly most famously only traveled with a single bag that she could carry with her – currently with The Smithsonian – containing only the absolute most essential items.

Going with only the clothes on your back may be a bit too extreme for some, but it should make you consider what are the absolute essentials – what could you live without on this trip? Do you really need multiple pairs of shoes, tons of clothes, or a bunch of electronics? What exactly do you want to do with your time there? Unless you intend on spending your time on your computer or with your nose in a book, skip those sorts of things. Take only a couple of your most versatile clothes (that can be dressed up or down) and only buy clothes at your destination if you need them. When you’re done you can donate, resell or give them to someone else.

What you pack should be indicative of what you will be doing, so unless you plan on spending a lot of time in your hotel, leave all the extras at home.

You are Limitless

When you consider the time period, the limited resources and social constraints that bound Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, what they managed to accomplish is incredible. The vast amount of resources, knowledge and overall freedom that we enjoy now gives everyone the opportunity to do amazing things.

Pretty much anything you want to do, you can do so long as you apply yourself and stick to it.

So what’s holding you back from pursuing your goals? What did you gain from Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s competition?

The Single Trait That Will Make You a Better Language Learner

0362 by Cia de Foto

Spending too much time in your own little world won’t make you a better language learner.

I completely and fully reject the assertion that some people are ‘just good language learners’.

Occasionally I also hear it phrased as someone being ‘gifted with languages’ or maybe ‘having the language gene’. It doesn’t matter how you put it, it’s wrong. On top of that and far worse whenever I hear it used it’s either to denigrate the achievement of some hard-working polyglot or as a pathetic cop-out for why they can’t learn a second language.

The fact is anyone can learn a new language or ten, while some people might hit the proper method more easily or naturally it doesn’t confer on them some magical advantage. You don’t need some imaginary ‘gift’ to learn a language.

That being said, there is a particular personality trait that makes you substantially more likely to succeed at learning a new language – but it’s something you can learn.

Social People = Better Language Learners

If you are a serious introvert please don’t leave because you need to hear this the most – people who are extroverted and more willing to take social risks make for much better language learners.

Language is at its core an inherently social thing. Its purpose is to communicate ideas with other people, to share experiences and knowledge. Sure, this can be done through the written medium in a relatively non-social way, but that’s an extension of language not the core of it.

If you’re learning to speak a language, to reach fluency in it and make it a part of yourself, you’re going to have to be social. You’re going to have to take risks.

Ok, if you’re one of the very small number of people who are learning a language solely to read it, maybe to enjoy some classics in their original form or because you’re studying a dead language, then fine. Being social may not be a huge benefit to your progress. You can leave now.

Now that two out of several thousand of you have left, we can move on.

Use of a language is a skill (like swimming) not a knowledge (like history). That means that to get good at it you have to treat it as such. After 10 hours who’s going to be the better swimmer, the person who spent those 10 hours in the pool practicing or the person who spent 10 hours reading books on swimming?

Languages are no different. Study will only take you so far, at some point you have to dive in and practice.

That’s what makes social people such better language learners, they take more risks and create more opportunities to practice their target language. The more willing you are to step outside your comfort zone socially in your use of your target language the more diverse opportunities you create to improve your skills.

Accepting Failure & Taking Risks

I think in general the main reason people miss out on opportunities to practice their target language as much as they could is because of social anxiety.

There can be a lot of causes of social anxiety, but a big one is the fear of looking strange, awkward or foolish in front of someone else and the resulting embarrassment. Fear of embarrassment can be serious business – I’ve known people who would become physically ill if asked to speak on stage in front of a group for fear they’d embarrass themselves.

Learning to let go of that fear and embrace your failures makes it much easier to take these social risks and open up additional opportunities.

I’ve talked a lot about how great failure is. I love failing. It’s really the best way we learn, and it’s definitely not something you should be scared or ashamed of. Particularly in the realm of language learning 99.9% of people who speak the language you’re learning will be ecstatic you’re learning their language and will be infinitely patient and supportive of you even if you make nothing but mistakes.

As for the 0.01% that will find out you’re learning a language and then deride, patronize and embarrass you for not magically being perfect at it from day one, we have a special term for them.

It’s asshole.

Be confident and practice under the assurance that the vast majority of people will gently correct your failures and you’ll learn a ton from them and that the tiny minority of individuals who will seek to bring you down for your mistakes are wretched things leading such dejected and miserable lives as to only be able to find momentary joy in crushing the spirits of others. You can ignore them.

Maximizing Your Return by Leaving Your Comfort Zone

The best learning occurs just outside of your normal zone of comfort. If you’re comfortable then you aren’t progressing fast enough.

That means you should always be looking for ways to push your social comfort zones in order to practice your target language.

This can mean different things for different people. For some pushing their comfort zone is going to mean getting on iTalki and chatting with someone over Skype half a world away who they may or may not ever talk to again. For others it might be going to the local international market or a restaurant from the same country as your target language and practicing with the staff there.

The point is to find your boundaries and step out of them.

Don’t do it in a non-committal way either. Go all in. Taking the first step of joining a Meetup group based around your target language is a fantastic first step, actually going to one of the Meetups is another, but once there you actually have to approach people and chat with them. If you go just to be there and hang out alone in a corner being shy then you’re not really getting any benefit from the experience.

If you’re already fairly outgoing, push your boundaries in other ways. It’s great to memorize the dialogue necessary to order a coffee in your target language then go to a restaurant where you can actually use it and repeat it there, but that’s very rigid and controlled. Do that, but rather than stop there go on and ask an open ended question like how business is going, what their favorite dish is or something like that.

That way you can push the conversation beyond the rigid dialogue you practiced beforehand and get some free form practice outside of your normal comfort zone.

In the end, forcing yourself to be a little more and more social and take more risks will lead to drastic improvements in your language skill that would take forever to come, if they ever even did, if you focused the majority of your effort on introverted study.

Have you seen more success with language learning by being more social or outgoing? Have any tips for people who have a lot of social anxiety? Help everyone out and share them in the comments!

Photo Credit: Cia de Foto

Why Chinese is Easy

Homework by Simon Shek

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

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

It’s So Different

The assumption that European languages are easier to learn than Chinese (largely because of them being “similar” to English) is what I think really drives the claim that Chinese is the hardest language to learn. Well, that and perhaps also a general ignorance about the language.

Yes, Chinese is different – in some ways. From European languages, it’s definitely different in that it has a logographic writing system instead of alphabetic. But does that necessarily make it harder to learn? Not at all! As I’ll discuss later, Chinese grammar and sentence structure isn’t too different from English which, in my opinion, makes it much easier to learn and remember. The point is really that any language can be difficult. Even between European languages there are huge differences – particularly between languages of different families (Romance, Germanic or Slavic) – that can make them difficult to learn.

Chinese isn’t as hard as one may think!

“Those Symbols” Are Meaningful

For a beginner, looking at a block of Chinese text can seem daunting – for a native English speaker there is no easily identifiable way to pronounce anything or get an idea of what it’s talking about. European languages are “easier” in that many use the same characters (some have a few additional letters or different letters) as English and many words have been shared between languages, giving us a leg up on meanings.

Many of the characters used are meant to look like the word they are supposed to represent. For example:

Shān Chuān Rén

Can you guess what these might mean? Okay, perhaps not immediately, but what if I pointed out to you that the first one kinda looks like a mountain. Can you see it now? Okay, going through the rest: a river, a tree, the Sun and the legs of a person walking. It helps if you’ve got an active imagination.

Much of written Chinese lends itself nicely to memorization techniques, like in the cases above.

I Can’t Memorize 3,000 Characters!

With many languages, our approach to learning is to memorize the most 2-3,000 most common words which will enable you to participate in most conversations and to read newspapers. The nice thing with Chinese is that you don’t have to memorize 3,000 characters though! Learning the basic words and a handful of radicals will enable you to figure out the meanings of other words.

Zhōng Xiǎo Xué

The words above are for ‘big’ ‘middle’ ‘little’ and ‘learn’. Once you know these words, suddenly you also know:

大学
Dà Xué
University

中学
Zhōng Xué
Middle School

小学
Xiǎo Xué
Elementary School

Many words are like this and if you know the characters you can often get the idea of what a bit of text is saying. Putting the words “electricity” and “talk” together gives you the word for “phone” or “electricity” and “view” gives you “television” or “fire” and “mountain” together give you “volcano”. While this isn’t true 100% of the time it IS valid for the majority of common words and phrases.

What are Radicals?

Another way to get clues as to what a word means are the radicals – or one of the components to the character. Knowing how to identify the radicals will help you look up words in the dictionary (although who cares anymore with handy apps like Pleco?) and in many cases can give some clue to meaning or pronunciation, or at the very least help you create a memory hook to remember a word.

Some examples:

林 晶
Lín Jīng

Remember those words from above for “tree” and “sun”? Well, the characters for them are also radicals. As you can see above I have a few words using those same characters. The first one is two trees together – can you guess what it means? Forest! The second is a trickier one – it’s three suns and means “sparkling” or “bright” (and having three suns would be terribly bright wouldn’t it?)

While Chinese has a character for water (水) it also has a radical for water (氵) and by knowing this radical you can get the idea that all these words have something to do with water/liquid or flowing: 洪水 Hóng Shuǐ (flood), 果汁 Guǒ Zhī (fruit juice), 电流 Diàn Liú (electric current) or 啤酒 Pí Jiǔ (beer). If you’re looking at a menu in a restaurant and see a list of words that all contain the 氵 radical, you’ll know those are the drinks! Similarly, knowing that 艹 is the radical for plant and is always on the top of the character you’ll be able to figure out which items on the menu are vegetable dishes.

Radicals may not always help you directly with knowing a word’s meaning or pronunciation, but as I mentioned earlier knowing them can help in many cases and often help in creating memory hooks.

Wait! Traditional vs. Simplified is Hard!

Lots of people fret about whether they should learn the traditional or simplified characters – which is something I think is pointless to worry about. What is your purpose in learning? Are you going to Beijing? Then learn simplified and don’t worry about the traditional. Going to Taiwan? Then traditional it is. Want to read Journey to the West? Simplified.

Aside from purpose making it clear which you should learn, I’ve learned both and I really don’t know why people fuss about it. In extreme cases it’s not much different than remembering there are two ways to say the same thing. More often than not though, the simplified versions aren’t that far from the traditional counterpart. Hacking Chinese had a great example of this:

銳 - 锐
銘 - 铭
釘 - 钉
鎮 - 鎮
釣 - 钓

Traditional is on the left and simplified is on the right. As you can see, all that changed is the radical. So much of what you need to remember is the two ways to write the simplified radicals, not every single character. This is much easier to do than people make it out to be!

Characters, Radicals, Traditional vs. Simplified, This is Why Chinese is Difficult!

I can understand if all the technical discussion above can make Chinese seem difficult. However, I find it a lot easier to remember all these things as I’m a very visually-based person and Chinese lends itself to a lot of visual memory hooks.

Furthermore, Chinese is really consistent which I hope you got the idea from with my examples of multiple trees = forest and electric talk = phone and so on. If you know a handful of single characters or words your vocabulary is instantly doubled once you start combining them!

Another great example of this consistency is, for example, when reading menus if you want to order stir-fried beef the word is literally “fried cow meat” (炒牛肉) whereas we have the obvious problem of “cow meat” being “beef” in English thanks to borrowing many food terms from French.

Beyond vocabulary Chinese doesn’t have genders, three different levels of the word “that” like languages in the Altaic family do (Turkish, Mongolian, Japanese, Korean), politeness levels or verb conjugation.

The Grammar is Simple

One of my favorite things about Chinese is how the grammar is nearly the same as English, but much more simplified. The word order is the same (Subject-Verb-Object, or “I go to the store”) unlike many other languages like Japanese where the structure is Subject-Object-Verb (“I to the store go.”)

For European languages, learning the grammar is where most of the work is at – all those rules for conjugations and the exceptions. But Chinese grammar is simple! The majority of the work in Chinese is just memorizing words, which you’d have to do anyway.

Learning the rules and exceptions to those rules of verb conjugations in Japanese was one of the things that frustrated me most when I was first learning it (which, in retrospect is silly as it’s mostly logical and easy, especially compared to Romance languages!) whereas in Chinese, none of this is a problem. Everything is in present tense unless you throw in a word to indicate otherwise such as “yesterday” or “tomorrow”. For really simple sentences, you can just use Le (了) which indicates that an action has been completed. Simple as that! Context and listening will tell you if something is happening now, happened in the past, or will happen.

Sounds NEVER get Dropped!

This is one of the big things for me – when you memorize a word and it’s character it is always pronounced like that. In other languages, like Japanese sometimes syllables get dropped in the middle of the sentence. Yes, you get used to them after a while and it becomes natural (as it should) but for a beginner it can be incredibly annoying.

English is notable for dropping sounds in pronunciation and a messed up spelling system – just look at the words subtle, enough, phlegm, gnostic or scene. There is no consistency between spelling and pronunciation! ‘Enough’ could just as well be spelled ‘enouf’. Or ‘fish’ could be spelled ‘ghoti’ using the gh from ‘tough’, the o from ‘women’ and the ti from ‘nation’. C, Ch and K can all be pronounced the same way (‘care’ ‘Chris’ and ‘kitten’).

The inconsistencies of English pronunciation are displayed wonderfully in the poem English is Tough Stuff. Here’s the first verse:

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

But you’ll never have to worry about any of this mess with Chinese. There’s only one way to pronounce each word and it is always the same.

So the Grammar is Easy but What About the Tones?!

Ah yes, tones. Chinese does have them – four for Mandarin – which distinguish between words. Many other languages have tones too – even English although the use is slightly different. Rather than meaning, tones in English indicate mood, emphasis and sometimes indicate that a sentence is a question.

Learning the tones isn’t and shouldn’t be difficult. Once you understand the, in my opinion obvious, difference between the four tones it’s only a matter of remembering which word is what tone. This may sound complicated, but there are tricks to making this easier.

Even if you mess up a tone in conversation the other person(s) will still understand what you are saying thanks to context. They may correct you, but they won’t be clueless. If I’m talking with a Chinese person about places we are going to go to and I accidentally say I’m going to the “bastard” ( 王八 Wáng Bā) instead of “Internet cafe” (网吧 Wǎng Bā) they may get a good laugh at me but they will know what I mean.

What Actually Makes a Language Difficult?

Having spent a lot of time learning how to learn I’ve come to the conclusion that learning any language is hard work but the level of difficulty hinges on having the right attitude, motivation and method.

Your attitude when you are approaching a language can hugely determine your success – generally if you think something is really hard then you’ll treat it as if it’s hard and it will become hard. But if you approach a language with a positive “this is simple!” attitude you’re changes of success will be much greater.

Similarly, if your motivation isn’t in line with your desires or needs then success will be difficult to attain. Learning French because you want to go to French and communicate for pleasure or business is a much better and stronger motivation than learning French to pass a class you have no real interest in. Whether it’s to understand a favorite show, communicate with others in that language, conduct business or whatever, you need a reason that will really motivate you to study and practice.

Finally, the method you use to learn a language also plays a significant role in how successful you’ll be. Not everyone learns the same way – sometimes even the way something is phrased can change your understanding of a particular element. Even though my attitude was positive and my motivation to learn Korean was extremely high, simply switching which grammar book I studied from made a huge difference. The way the grammar was explained in the second book was MUCH easier to understand. I find using an SRS (spaced repetition system) to learn vocabulary to be much more helpful over writing words over and over.

Chinese is one of my favorite languages and so of course it saddens me that people pass over this rich language because of a stereotype that it’s difficult. If you’re having difficulty with a language, take a step back and figure out why. Maybe you need a new grammar book, maybe you need to find a new source of motivation or perhaps your attitude is negative. If it’s your attitude, go take a break and play! Come back later when you are in a good mood.

What do you think? What has made a particular language easy or difficult? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Simon Shek

Why You Need to Go Out And Fail

Sad by Kate Alexanderson

If you never even try you’re worse than a failure.

I used to have a serious confidence problem.

It shouldn’t really be surprising, I was fat and awkward and nerdy and shy. Alone those attributes tend to not contribute to being bold and self-confident, combined they made for the perfect cocktail of personality traits to absolutely destroy any chance of committing myself to anything.

As a result of that, there were tons of opportunities I missed out on my whole life because I was too scared to fail.

Honestly there are too many to count, but one that comes to mind from when I was really young is Space Camp.

Remember Space Camp? If you grew up in the early 90s and watched TV at all you ought to. As a kid it looked amazing. You got to fly off to this camp to do incredible astronaut stuff and go through all this learning and training. It was like nerdy Disneyland.

I begged my parents to go, but it was really expensive. After a while though they gave in and said if I really wanted to go, they’d save up a bit and send me that next summer. I was ecstatic at first – I’d finally get to go after what was probably months of begging – after a few days though I started to worry.

I’d be surrounded by new people in a completely unfamiliar place thousands of miles from home. What if I did something stupid in front of everyone? What if no one there liked me? What if the training was too hard or the people running the camp were mean?

The day after I realized all that and freaked out I told my parents I’d changed my mind. I didn’t need to go to Space Camp anymore, they shouldn’t bother saving for it. I can’t remember the excuse I made up to explain away their confusion over my sudden 180, but I couldn’t admit to them that I was too much of a coward to even try.

More Despicable Than Failure

Thankfully I’ve gotten over those issues since becoming an adult, but I’ll always regret all the opportunities I let pass by because I was scared of being a failure. The most frustrating part of it is, I was much worse than a failure.

That idea might be a bit strange at first. There’s such an enormous amount of negative stigma attached to the concept of failure that some people consider it to be the very worst thing, or at least consider being a failure the worst thing you can be.

As bad as failure might seem to you, never even trying is far worse.

You can learn from failure. You can’t learn from never doing anything. On top of that when you try seriously, really commit yourself, and still fail then not only do you grow from the experience but that failure will generally come from some factor outside of your control.

In other words if you try your hardest and fail, the blame for the failure (if there even should be any) really shouldn’t fall on you. If you never try you’ve already failed and you’ve failed for a reason that was completely and entirely under your control and of your own volition. It’s your own damn fault.

When ‘I Tried’ Is Bullshit

Not everyone is so brazenly cowardly as I was in my youth. Some people are just as terrified of trying as I was, but are too embarrassed or scared to admit it so they pretend to try.

Imagine someone who wants to be a published author. They have some ideas and they write a couple short stories and maybe even a full novel. They send them all out to a handful of agents or publishers and they all get turned down.

The ‘aspiring author’ says something to the effect of, “Well, I tried. I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” and promptly abandons their path toward author-dom. In my book this basically amounts to mental masturbation – you tell yourself you did the best you could and it feels good that you ‘tried’ and you get a little boost of self-satisfaction and move on.

You feel like you’ve accomplished something when in reality you’re just giving yourself a convenient excuse to give in to your fears while saving face and not looking like a coward to others or, possibly even worse, yourself.

Nine times out of ten, the phrase ‘I tried’ is bullshit.

People who’ve genuinely earned the title of failure, people who have committed themselves fully but couldn’t make it, almost never say ‘I tried’. The reason for that is that ‘I tried’ is what people say when they give up.

When people who commit themselves fully, who really try, fail at something they don’t quit. They learn from that failure and try again.

Why People Choose to Be Worse Than Failures

I’ve found in all the examples I’ve come across of people giving up before they’ve started or half-assing things so they can feel good and say they tried the motivations for such behavior boil down into two categories – fear and laziness.

In my opinion fear is the more common one, though I’ll admit it may just be easier to recognize because it preyed on me for the better part of my life. This can be fear of consequences (not asking out someone you like because they might reject you), fear of uncertainty (not changing careers to one you think you’ll enjoy more) or fear of some other aspect – the uniting thread is that there’s something that scares you and it’s easier just to avoid it.

When it comes to laziness it’s usually tied to a sense of complacency – things are just fine the way they are so why commit to something that’s going to shake everything up? This can also be expressed via a sense of defeatism. If you say to yourself, “Why bother? I’m not going to be able to do it anyway,” then you might as well be honest with yourself and admit you’re just too lazy.

Seeking the Epic Fail

So you recognize some of these things in yourself, maybe in an opportunity you passed up you wish you’d taken or maybe in an endeavor you took a dive on in order to say that you at least tried. Now that you know it’s a problem, what do you do about it?

Learn to chase after the huge, epic failures.

It sounds strange at first, seeing as how we should be chasing success rather than failures, but chasing success is what everyone else does and when you don’t get it encourages you to be depressed and discouraged and quit. Given that we’ve established you’re a quitter, that’s just not going to work.

People who have earned success did it by first earning hundreds and thousands of failures. Sure statistics dictates you’re going to have a few lottery winners, but you shouldn’t base your actions on the anomalies. When you look at the stories of people who have made it starts sounding a bit repetitive after a while. They all fail, adjust, fail some more, keep adjusting and don’t quit until they’ve got it figured out.

If you think Angry Birds was Rovio‘s first game, you are likely extremely deluded as to how the world actually works.

Instead re-frame your approach so you get into things totally expecting some manner of enormous failure. Not in the sense of pretending to try and setting yourself up for failure, but in the sense of going all in knowing that if you fail you’ll have earned that failure and you’ll learn from it.

Understand that when you’ve really thrown everything you have into something failure is a wonderful thing. It’s a badge of honor. It’s something you should be proud of.

When you start to back out of something before you’ve started stop what you’re doing and devote yourself to going all in and failing. When your subconscious says, “Don’t do that, what if it doesn’t work out? What if we fail?” Slap your subconscious across its incorporeal face and shout, “Fuck that. I’m going to go out and fail like a hero. I’m going to earn that failure, and like slain foes I will pile those failures against the wall between me and success until I can march right over and take what I’ve earned.”

Then go forth and be incredible.

Do you have a trick for getting over your fear of even beginning? What are some things you regret never doing because you were too scared to commit? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Kate Alexanderson

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