Stupid Birds!

The other day my daughter was looking up at the sky and said, “Stupid birds!” I asked what she meant, and she said that the birds were flying the wrong way.

I chuckled and mentioned that if she based her happiness on the direction that birds fly, she is in for many unhappy times.

How many times have you based your happiness on something you can’t control? Do you get upset or angry or depressed about an event that you could have done nothing about? Why not concentrate your attention and efforts on things you can control?

In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discusses drawing a circle that represents all your areas of concern, and a smaller circle inside of that one that represents the areas that you actually have control over. He teaches that you should concentrate your efforts on the smaller circle, where you have influence, which will then help to expand the size of that circle. If you focus your efforts outside of your circle of influence, your failed efforts will often serve to make your circle of influence even smaller.

Don’t worry about the birds, worry about where you are going.

Updated Shopping List

I’ve gotten some good feedback about my original post about Saving time at the supermarket with a shopping list. I spent some time revising the shopping list to help in a few ways:

1) Now I have the week’s menu on the list itself. Before I would write the menu on a sticky, but now I find it’s nice to reference the menu in the store in case I think of something else I’ll need to go along with it.
2) I’ve added boxes for all the stores I might shop at. I do shop sales sometimes, so if an item I want is on sale at a particular store, I’ll buy it there. And I found that I don’t buy much at King Sooper anymore as we’re pretty much converted over to natural foods, which I get at Vitamin Cottage.

Here is the revised shopping list, in Word and PDF formats:

MS Word format:Shopping list-1.doc

PDF: Shopping List-1 PDF Format

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Saving time at the supermarket with a shopping list

I created a shopping list that saves me a tremendous amount of time when shopping. It’s organized by store, and by aisle in the store.

At home when I use something up, or will need something in a recipe, I write it down in the aisle where it will be found. Then, when at the store, on my old shopping lists, I’d have to scan and re-scan the list to see if something I need is in the aisle I’m in, but now I just look in the section for that aisle. Simple!

This also saves money because I only buy what’s written down (with some exceptions for things I know I’ve forgotten, or stuff I find on good sale.) Without a list, I’d often just “browse” to fill the pantry, and buy a bunch of stuff we didn’t use often.

Over the several months I’ve been using it, this list has really saved me time, and made shopping easier. I never have to backtrack in a supermarket to get something from an aisle I’ve already been through because I just noticed something on a list. Saving that frustration alone, makes this list worthwhile.

I’ve attached the current version of my shopping list in both Word and PDF formats. Obviously you’ll probably have to modify these for your stores, but it’s a start…
MS Word Format: shopping list.doc

PDF: Shopping List

Note about the organization of the list: I mainly shop at three stores, and they’re represented in different spaces on the shopping list. I tried to arrange the stores in the actual order of the aisles to make it even easier. You’ll note that the “Whole Foods” section is just one big box. This is because I usually buy everything I can at Vitamin Cottage (where it’s 10-20% cheaper than Whole Foods), and then if I can’t get something there I buy it at Whole foods. The “Whole Foods” box is just for the few things that I know I’ll buy there.

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The Magic of “Every Day”

As I mentioned in a previous post (An Early Riser, me?), I do a set of activities every day. As I look at this paradigm of “Every Day”, at both the things I do every day, and the things I don’t, I realize that there is real magic in “Every Day.”

I’ve been getting up even earlier for the last week or two, at 4:30AM. But one night I didn’t get in bed until after 1AM. So I set the alarm for 5AM. I got up, but I was really tired!

I went into our “serenity room” to get started on my Morning of Mindfulness, and my mind kept saying things like, “You’re too tired, you could skip exercises today.”, “Skip the pushups.”, “You don’t have to play guitar.”, “You’ll fall asleep meditating, only do it for a few minutes.”

But I ignored all those suggestions and went through my routine, just as I do every day. The Morning of Mindfulness invigorated me and I went on to have a happy and high-energy day.

What I realized was that there was no decision to make: I always do these things, so I did them. Contrast that to things that I don’t do every day, but try to do “a few times a week”, like walking. Walking is probably the best form of exercise for general health, quality of life and longevity. I’d like to walk a lot, but I haven’t found a place to work it into my daily schedule. So I say that I’ll walk at least three times a week. But what ends up happening is that since I don’t have to walk on any given day, it leaves me open to saying, “today’s not the day, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Even if it’s a perfunctory version of the thing I’m trying to do, just doing something every day will instill the habit. I read once that if you want to exercise and are having a hard time doing so, don’t make a pact with yourself to exercise, but only to get dressed to exercise. That is, if you want to go running, all you need to be sure you do is to don the shorts, put on the running shoes. If you do those things no matter what, then chances are you’ll go running too. For me, I think what I’ll do is do some sort of walk every day. Even if that’s around the block once, or even up the street and back. Chances are if I do that, I’ll want to continue doing it for a few more minutes. My goal is to walk 15 minutes a day.

The lesson, for me at least, is to figure out what is worthwhile to do, and to schedule a time to do those things every day.

Getting Un-Stuck

Seth Godin wrote in his blog about getting stuck at a “local max” because applying more energy after that point appears to actually decrease the effectiveness of what you’re doing, whether that’s your career, a project, or your relationship. What Seth points out is that people often mistake those lows as indicators of problems, and then retreat, when in fact people should push through and they’ll find that their efforts pay off and they arrive at the “big max.”

It really is true that those who struggle through adversity are often better off after the adversity. They’ve pushed beyond the local max, through the lows, and on to greater heights.

After all I’ve been through in the last year and a half, I can say from my own experience that the lower you go, the more woken up you get. And today, as my wife is on journey toward the end of her life, it doesn’t get much lower. But I’m not bitter, it’s a learning experience. It solidifies all I’ve learned from her in the last 14 years, and makes me take a hard look at the things I didn’t do the way I’d wanted to. And because of the adversity, I really learn it!

One of my favorite quotes: “Only after disaster can we be ressurected. It’s only after you have lost everything, that you’re free to do anything.” (Tyler Durden, in Fight Club)

What does all this mean? It means that when you’re going through troubles, that there is always another side. And if Seth’s right, it’s better than the one you left. It also means that there’s no easy way: if you want something worthwhile, you should expect to have problems as you pursue your goal. You might even say that if you’re not experiencing problems, then you’re not trying hard enough.

All I can say is that I expect a really big “big max” for all that I’m going through. ๐Ÿ™‚

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An Early Riser, me?

I’d always been a night person before, usually going to bed at 10:00PM or later and preferring to sleep as late as possible (6:45AM or so), and much later on the weekends. What I realized, though, after some introspection was that the late evening wasn’t really the time when I was at my best. Sure, sometimes I could really get the groove on and get some excellent work done. But a lot of my nocturnal activities were not worthwhile. For example, blogs are interesting and I hope you’ll read mine from time to time, but when I’d look back at an evening of blog reading, I’d feel like I wasted the time.

I have two kids and a busy household, so I had a hard time finding time to do things for my personal development. I exercised only haphazardly and rarely even picked up the guitar I’d been trying to learn how to play for years. So I had some incentive to find a way to work these things into my life.

I read Steve Pavlina’s, “How to Become an Early Riser” and, quite profoundly, it changed my life. (Also see his additional post on the subject, How to Become an Early Riser, Part II)

After reading Steve’s article, I decided I wanted to get up at 5:00AM. It seemed impossible, but it was worth a try. The two key things that made the change possible for me were:
1. Set a fixed time to wake up, but vary the time I go to bed. That time should be when I’m tired enough to go to sleep in less than 15 minutes
2. Get up at the same time every day (I’ll talk about “Every Day”ย in a subsequent post.)

The fixed time to get up helped a lot. It meant no negotiations. I get up at 5AM, no matter what. I don’t have to think about what day it is, or what the day will be like, or what the night before was like. As soon as the alarm goes off, I get up. Immediately! It’s important to have the discipline to just get up and not hit snooze or bargain with yourself. Sure, my mind tried to do that in the beginning, but after only a few days of ignoring that voice that said “just a little more sleep”ย, now there isn’t even a pause when the alarm goes off. Often I wake up about 5 minutes before the alarm goes off (which I’m sure my wife, who sleeps later, prefers). If the alarm does go off and I’m groggy, I do some deep breathing and that wakes me up quickly. (I’ll talk about breath exercises in a subsequent post.)

And what time to I go to bed? “It depends.”ย Really, it’s different every day. I go to bed when I’m tired. Not so tired that I’m falling over, but tired enough that whatever I might be doing won’t be worthwhile. Now that I’ve been doing this for many months, I can just tell when I’m tired enough to go to sleep.

Sometimes that’s 9:00PM, sometimes that’s 11:30 PM. It has been as late as 1:30AM, and as early as 8:00PM. Generally, though, I go to bed between 9:30 and 10:30 each night. So that means that I’m getting around 7 hours of sleep on an average night, when I used to be an 8 hour plus, person. And it also means that since I go to bed (on average) at the same time I used to, that I’ve added almost 2 hours to my waking day. I use that time for some of the worthwhile things I’d previously never been able to get to.

My morning schedule goes something like:
5:05-5:25: Exercise: The Peaceful Warrior Workout and other exercises
5:25-5:55: Meditate, zazen style
5:55-6:00 make tea, green
6:00-6:40 practice guitar, classical

The schedule is not really this rigid: sometimes I’ll meditate for longer and shorten my guitar practice, or I’ll exercise longer and adjust the other things accordingly. The key, for me, is that I do each of them every day. I’ll write about the activities in subsequent posts.

Has it been worthwhile for me to turn my sleeping schedule upside-down like this? For me, very much so. An extra hour and forty minutes every day, filled with worthwhile things has made big changes in my life. Maybe it would for you too?