We had just finished an amazing dinner with friends at a restaurant perched atop a scenic gorge in the mountains along the Ariake sea in Saga Prefecture in Japan. As we headed to the car, I swung into the restroom to make a pit stop. I had downed three Kirin Free beers with dinner (sadly, the free referred to the absence of alcohol not the price) and we had a lengthy car ride ahead of us.
The restroom was not uncommon among older Japanese restaurants. However, it was the type of bathroom that, throughout my years in Japan, I never ceased to be surprised by. It was unisex. That wasn’t the surprising part. The stall had a door that locked so privacy there was assured. The thing that baffled my American brain was, “why is the urinal between the bathroom door and the stall?”
Anyone could enter at any time. If there had been a lock on the door, it wouldn’t have seemed so strange. But, there was no lock, leaving me to wonder when another patron, perhaps female, was going to burst in to find a blonde haired foreigner standing there with his pants unzipped.
In that type of restroom, I always found myself wriggling just a little closer to the urinal for the sake of modesty. Doing this bummed me out because, inevitably, the floor was wet. I like to think that it was from the humidity but knowing men, it was not.
I inched closer with my mid and upper body, while at the same time trying to keep my feet out of the puddles, I noticed a handwritten sign taped to the top of the urinal.
It said: 一歩前! (Ippo-mae)
Translated: One step forward!
I had to wonder if the step forward was for modesty’s sake or to keep the floor dry. On a few other occasions, I have seen the same sign in different places and have come to understand that it was not modesty that inspired it. It was cleanliness.
Over the years, I have told the story to many laughs. A little to my surprise, with each telling, I find myself thinking that there is a bigger truth wrapped up in those simple words.
The words have morphed from joke to a sometimes mantra/call to action for me.
Onestep forward…to the finish line
One step forward…toward overcoming fear
One step forward…toward my dreams
One step forward…toward tomorrow
One step forward…toward whatever I desire
And, when remembering where the advice came from, there is the added incentive to step slowly and look where I am about to place my foot.
I just had possibly my most productive week ever and I wasn’t even facing a deadline. In fact, I could have spent half of every day at the office reading the internet and nobody would have known or cared.
Instead, I found myself going from one useful endeavor to the next with virtually no down time.
It was Easy
The idea came thanks to reading the transcript of an interview with Ryan Holiday. In the interview he shared a conversation that he once had with bestselling author Robert Greene. Holiday was telling Greene how he was planning to write a book… someday.
For Holiday, Greene’s response was awesome and life changing. Greene told him, “Ryan while people wait for the right moment, there are two types of time: Dead time—where they are passive and biding and Alive time—where they are learning and acting and leveraging every second towards their intended future. Which will this be for you?”
Those words struck deep. I’m not a lazy guy but I have a list of dreams still to become reality and personal projects screaming for attention. I’m not a particularly lazy person. I have a lot of alive time in my life. And, yes, there is plenty of dead time that I could hack out of my days.
The picture above is now my computer’s desktop image.
Every time I notice myself off task, idling, or outright wasting time, I close all of the open windows on my computer.
Next comes decision time. Standing between me and my next action is the choice, “Alive Time or Dead Time.” I have to chose. I must “make the call.”
My productivity has soared. Not only am I getting the work for my day job finished in record time, I am finding the time and energy to work on side projects. This blog came out of choosing alive time over dead time.
Take it, Use it
When you need a reminder to stay on task with your life, try this out. Feel free to use my screen saver. You can drag and drop it to your own computer and with a few clicks it can be your constant reminder. It just might make all of the difference in the world.
It has for Ryan Holiday, since Robert Greene uttered those words , Holiday has written four bestselling books.
Alive time or dead time, you make the call.
New research, published in the journal Environmental Behaviour supports what almost* everybody already knew. Being around trees reduces stress.
The idea that trees can lower stress levels has been anecdotally acknowledged for longer than any of us has been alive. Odds are that you have felt it too.
I grew up surrounded by forest and seem to spend my time away from forests yearning to get back. Often, I’ve wondered what the attraction is. Is it physical or emotional or a combo, is there something in the air or is it something else all together.
Whatever the reason, it seems that a little green can go a long way. An exciting revelation from the study is that even walking down a tree lined street in an urban setting can do the trick.
The study found a “dose responsive curve.” This means the more trees the merrier you are likely to be. But even a few trees were found to have significant stress reducing potential.
On top of that, it turns out that we may not even need to get outside to get the benefit of being around trees. Surprisingly, the study was done with only pictures of trees. Definitely good news for those of us living in the concrete jungles of the world.
While I doubt that we will ever fully understand fully but quite a bit of scientific research has been done in Korea and Japan regarding the health benefits of spending time in forests.
In the 1980s, the Japanese government started a program to promote spending more time in forests for the purpose of preventative and regenerative medicine. The practice is called Shinrin Yoku, translated, most commonly as, Forest Bathing.
According to Shinrin-Yoku.org the following are scientifically proven benefits of Forest Bathing.
In addition to the science, the organization claims some more esoteric benefits.
Seems worth a walk in the woods to me.
*For the record, I have one friend who claims to be unnerved by too many trees. When my wife an I were living in a tree filled neighborhood that bordered the Santa Monica mountains, this friend claimed that because she was from the city being among so many trees caused her anxiety. Just a case of one size doesn’t always fit all.
In exercise training, coaches talk about the concept of over-reaching. It is the idea that sometimes we go just beyond what our current limits are in order to improve.
Over-reaching is a strategic choice with a end date and desired outcome in mind. Over-reaching has the potential to cause more harm than good.
How to Benefit from Over-Reaching
For over-reaching to make us stronger we must keep three things in mind.
If these criteria are met, there is a good chance that we will emerge from the experience stronger and more capable.
When we attempt to over-reach without a recovery plan, there is a high probability of “over-training.” Over-training is very different from over-reaching. Specifically, overtraining is compromising health and fitness due to chronically trying to do too much. When we over-do anything, we actually become less proficient at that thing and often end up broken in the process.
Recovery, it’s not just for Exercise
Even though we don’t usually call it over-reaching in everyday life, the same principle applies in many areas. Any thing that stresses us beyond our normal limits on a consistent basis has the potential to break us.
Over-stressed, over-worked, over-weight, over-tired are all conditions that begin by going a little bit too far. We don’t become over-worked by occasional over-time or over-weight by going eating too much once a year on Thanksgiving or skipping the gym a few times. It is a process.
(Click below to read more)
The old saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That’s a nice notion. I like the flip side of it too. It implies that when the going isn’t tough, there isn’t a need to be tough.
Crazily, that really isn’t contemporary human nature. We love tough. My recent re-entry into the world of working out has re-acquainted me with this. Taking it easy can be so hard.
I am guilty of this in exercise, work and life in general. I say that I just want to take it easy but then I find myself constantly enamored with the idea of just doing a little more or doing it a little bit harder. Eventually, day after day of just a little more leaves me tired or injured or less effective than I should be.
The Difficulties Will Find You
Because it was exercise that got me thinking about this, I’ll tell an exercise related story. It’s advice that I am very adept at following in running and less so in regular life.
I’ve run a few marathons. Occasionally, people ask me for advice on how to run the race. What I have to say usually surprises them. I advise that if, early on, your pace feels right, there’s only one thing to do. SLOW DOWN! It shouldn’t feel right. It should feel to0 easy.
I like to say that in running a person shouldn’t go looking for the pain and difficulty because pain and difficulty will find on their own.
That’s how it is with life. The pain and difficulty will find us. And, when they do, we will need all of our strength and resources to persevere. It seems that if things are “easy” we think that we are doing something wrong. Usually that’s not true.
If it’s easy and we are progressing toward a goal then we are on the right track. When things feel easy, we continue and if we continue the results are bound to be good.
It’s when things are hard that we need to look deeper and ask a question. The question to ask is, “Is this really a tough time or am I needlessly making it into a tough time.” There is a good chance that we are just being silly and making a run of the mill situation unnecessarily laborious. Tough times should be the exception and not the rule.
And, we need all of our energy when those tough times arrive. If we are already worn down when the trials and tribulations arrive our chances of overcoming them are severely decreased.
The Self-importance of Tough
I’m spending the week questioning “tough” times. When I get gripey and whiney because things are hard, I’m trying to step back. Turns out that I have not had a single tough time this week. At first, I was sure that I had had a bunch. There have been a few frustrations and inconveniences and a lot of times where I just needed to get serious and do my job. But, there hasn’t been a single time that anything has been tough.
That’s the best news ever right? Turns out there is one drawback. The feeling of self-importance that I’ve been cultivating, by thinking that I was dealing with a healthy dose of “tough”, has evaporated.
Seems that I’ll need to channel the reserves freed up by my new found ease into something really important and not just self-important. I can’t wait!
In the fall I travel a lot between NY and LA. During some stretches, I spend a week in one place followed by a week in the other. People often ask me how I can be so perky when I am constantly changing time zones.
The answer is simple. There are five things I try to do. If I pull them all off, I almost always feel ready to take on the world the next day.
1. I Don’t sleep on the plane.
(Doesn’t apply to red eye flights)
The key to feeling good in the days after a flight is to sleep well the night of arrival. Sleeping on the plane messes this up. Most of us don’t nap on a regular basis so when we conk out on the plane it makes it harder for us to fall asleep that night.
Sleeping in a new place is disruptive in its own right. A long snooze earlier in the day can leave us wide eyed when it’s time to get some shut eye.
I aim to be exhausted when I go to bed the night of a flight. The more time zones I cross, the more important it is for me. When I get a long deep sleep the first night, I can easily handle whatever the rest of the trip throws at me.
2. I skip the alcohol on the plane
When I lived in Japan, I always chuckled at the people cracking a beer at 8am on the Bullet Train. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would do that. A Japanese friend explained to me that for many people, having a beer is a symbolic gesture to mark the start of a trip or vacation.
While I disagree with the wisdom of a morning beer, I do understand the power of symbolic gestures. I imbibed in plenty of those alcoholic gestures on plane flights. But, that was the past. An in-flight drink is a symbolic gesture that I have abandoned.
For me, a drink makes me sleepy on the plane and I am in danger of a nap. That makes me break rule #1. If I have too much, the alcohol itself messes up my sleep and I doubly break rule #1.
3. I go to bed at my normal-ish time or earlier (according to the clock where I am, not where I came from)
When I travel I want to get on my new schedule ASAP. Part of that is getting to bed at a decent time on arrival day. This builds on the previous two steps.
When I sleep in a new place, odds are that I won’t have uninterrupted sleep. That makes it necessary to be in bed early enough to have time to toss, turn and stare at the ceiling and still have enough hours to get quality rest.
These days, it’s a piece of cake for me. I don’t sleep on the plane and I skip the booze. These two habits coupled with the normal fatigue of a big travel day usually has me in bed early and sound asleep in no time at all.
4. I get outside
When we travel, our circadian rhythm is not in a big hurry to adjust to a new time zone. Getting outside can help speed up the process.
Specifically, spending some time, even just a few minutes, outside can allow your body to zero in on your new location.
I like to outside first thing in the morning when I wake up. I like to have the sun hit my eyes unfiltered. That means no sunglasses and, if possible, I don’t put my contacts in either. Having the full spectrum of light on our eyes and bodies gives signals to the body that help us adapt to a new time zone. Bookend the morning time in the sun with some exposure around sunset and the body can really adapt to a new location.
My super secret weapon is to spend some time on the grass,sand or soil barefoot. I don’t know exactly why it works but I find it energizing and my gut feeling is that it helps adapt to a new time zone.
5. I stock up on provisions
The final thing I like to do is hit the store to stockpile healthy snacks. I always travel with some nuts, fruit and hard boiled eggs for on the plane but I am too lazy too carry too many supplies. That’s why I like to stop by the store and get some food to have on hand in my hotel room.
Just like at home, when I don’t have good food on hand, I am likely to resort to something less nourishing just because it is accessible. Apples, oranges, bananas and nuts are my favorites. If I have access to a refrigerator, I like to get some veggies and almond butter as well.
That’s all there is to it. Five steps to feeling good after a time zone change. Try and see if you like it. I’d love to hear any other methods that work for you. Please comment below or email me.
I Know, I NO!
Are two simple words allowing you to be dishonest with yourself? They were (sometimes still are) in my life.
Here’s how to find out.
Ask yourself this question. It’s the same question I routinely ask myself. Too often, I don’t like my answer.
It’s simple, every time you catch yourself saying or thinking “I know…,” ask yourself, “ what I REALLY mean?” Too often, when I investigate, I come to the realization that I really mean is just “no.”
Sounds like “know” but the meaning is completely different. Apparently, I just don’t want to come right out and say or think what I mean.
How “I know” (used to) give me a free pass
It turns out that “I know” is often just the first two words of what should be a much longer sentence.
Instinctively, I don’t acknowledge the complete thought. Turns out that it is in the omitted part that the honesty resides.
The complete thought is something like, “I know but… I don’t want to do that…it’s hard (so I don’t want to do that)…I’ve never done that before (so I don’t want to do it)…I’m tired (so I don’t want to do it)…I don’t want to take your advice because it will be a blow to my ego…etc.
In the end, I have used omission to hide my reluctance to do something.
An added benefit is I get to feel smart and informed because “I know.” When we know we are smart,right?
Like GI Joe used to say in the 1980s public service cartoons, “knowing is half the battle.” The other half is acknowledging that there is more to life than just knowing.
Thanks for engaging in my ramble. My hope is that this topic doesn’t apply to you at all and thank you for being honest with yourself.
A very small sampling of the people who have surprised me as they zipped by as I was “training” during the past week:
I am two weeks into a journey back to fitness. My first instinct is to cling to thoughts of my glory days of fitness and hope that fitness, long ago lost, is just around the corner.
Memory tells me that I am an athlete but my day to day training challenges the validity of the notion. And, that is a good thing. Every time someone speeds past me, sometimes with ease and sometimes with effort, it is feedback worth noting.
The feedback urges me to start where I am, not where I think I might be.
Finding My Baseline
My coworker, Carly, inspired this post. We were chatting and she brought up the idea to “Redefine your baseline.” It’s an awesome and vital concept that I, for one, am too lazy about.
(click below to read more)
I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror. And, if I do say so myself, looked a lot better than usual. The bags under my eyes didn’t strike me as puffy and as dark as usual. I thought, just maybe, that my skin had a nicer glow to. On top of it, I felt perky despite a shortish night’s sleep.
All of those things might be my imagination but that’s okay. The feeling of them is real and I think that it may stem from a mental shift that has been happening over the last week.
Those of you who know me might remember that there was a time that I ran and ran and ran. I loved it so much that I would happily run multiple times a day. To this day, I still love running. I just don’t do it.
Now I watch it or read about it. Thanks to FloTrack.org and, now, the Olympics, I can get my fix whenever I want to.
The issue isn’t that I don’t want to run. It’s that it is painful and whenever I try to do it, a foreboding sense of impending injury lurks behind every footfall. Add to that daily fatigue and related muscle pain and tightness and I just haven’t found it in me to hit the trails.
A few weeks ago, for some reason that all began to change. It started with an unrequested email. It arrived promoting a 100 mile bike ride around NYC. As soon as I read it, I burned to do it. And, just like that, I entered. In two minutes I had come from couch potato to couch potato who was signed up for a century bike ride.
A few days later, I started to want to run too. Not just run but run a long way. So, I set my sights on a 50 mile race in January.
I bought running shoes. Surprisingly, I didn’t even own any. I printed up the course map and hung it on the wall in my office where I will see it many times a day.
I made a two month plan to get my body ready to train. It amuses me that I am at the point where I need to make a plan to get “ready” to train. But, that’s my reality. At this point, I am an injury waiting to happen. My muscles are tight. My achilles tendons are too painful too touch.
I have become a former yoga teacher who can’t touch his toes! There is definitely prep work to be done.
I downloaded the audio book Finding Ultra by Rich Roll in the hope of finding inspiration.
A New Me
And, as quickly as that, I awoke to find that I was no longer thinking of myself as a dude with low energy and lower motivation to exercise. As quickly as that, without running a step, I became an athlete again and it feels good.
Maybe, just maybe, that is the reason that I liked what I saw when I looked in the mirror today. Standing there was a me I desire to be and he looked pretty good.