New Year Resolutions? Ante up but no bluffing.

photoHappy 2013. With the world predicted to end on 101 different days in the past five years, I’d say a little optimism is in order that we survived. Celebrate what a great year you just had or say goodbye to a bad one and hit the reset button. You don’t need to wait for a new year to start improving yourself but no matter what you do, just keep this in mind:

make realistic goals

All those resolutions are worth half a bag of peanuts if you don’t put forth some genuine effort. It all comes down to self-awareness and willpower. If you’re not willing to make investments in order to be happier then stop reading right here cuz you’re wasting your time. Otherwise, I recommend you check out this 2009 article in The Wall Street Journal that explains why roughly 88 percent of resolutions end up on the back burner year to year. If you’re too lazy to read the whole thing (how ironic), I’ll break it down for you and give you some of my own pearls.

Part 1: Awareness

photo1Awareness is something that everyone has on one level or another. It says why some are great at driving, noticing others’ moods, or picking up a corner blitz on third down. A lack thereof, however, also explains why some people at the market seem like they’re aiming for you with their shopping carts.

Ultimately, a lot of it comes down to mental processing. Genetic makeup may determine how well we see, hear, or smell certain things but a great deal of it has to do with interpretation of those stimuli. There are tens of thousands of bits of information that we absorb on a daily basis but only a handful that grabs our conscious attention.

So if you want to work on fixing a bad habit or start a new project you have to concentrate on your every thought and action. You can say “I need to eat less to lose weight” or “I can finish a marathon if I just run an hour a day for a few months” but you won’t fully accomplish your goal. You need to educate yourself and gather information before you can start the process. Learn about the proper steps. Try to pinpoint what you’re doing wrong. A lot of times, it helps having a friend giving you their observations of what you’re doing. Once you’ve identified your flaws or learned about your new project of interest, you can begin formulating a plan.

Part 2: Willpower

You’ve got a plan now.  Awesome.  That’s half the battle, right?  What’s the other half?  Execution.  I’m talking about mental focus and energy to push you over the edge so you won’t relapse on that diet or promise to quit smoking.

Mental energy is finite and determines how many tasks we can simultaneously execute as well as to what extent.  Ever get that feel of burnout after you’ve been studying or working twelve hours straight?  You can’t focus on anything afterward and just want to head home for shut down.  Stop by the gym on the way home?  HA!  Good luck.

Willpower is dependent on two things: physical health and mental capacity.  Physical health relies on the obvious factors of diet, exercise, and to a certain extent, genetics.  It’ll affect your level of focus and self-awareness (ahem, see section above).  Your brain needs nutrients and energy just like the rest of your body.

Now, mental capacity is something many think is strictly inherent and immalleable.  I beg to differ along with a bunch of nerdy, white coat scientists in the WSJ article that I mentioned.  Let’s say your goal is to memorize a five page, Nobel Prize acceptance speech for inventing a pillow that stays cool on both sides during the summer (When, God, WHEN will this be invented???).  Do you read through the whole thing once, start to finish?  No, Mr. Good Will Hunting.  You divide it up into sections because the mind can only process and hold so many pieces of information at once.

Willpower2

So is what you need to do in order to accomplish major goals that you set out for yourself.  Your brain (and thus your willpower) is similar to a muscle in that it needs exercise in order to build up endurance to maintain focus on difficult and sustained tasks.  As such, one of the reasons that so many New Year resolutions fail is that people try to do everything at once or skip straight to the end.  The key is to take baby steps and gradually lengthen your stride until you hit that finish line.

And, oh yeah.  Avoid distractions. Eliminate temptations.  If your goal is to drop weight, then toss out your junk food and don’t drive past that In-N-Out Burger.  If your goal is to spend more time with your kid, then don’t bring your work laptop with you to the playground.  Depending on what your objective is, a few rewards or exceptions can be made but not if it’s something like smoking a cigar when you’re trying to quit cigarettes.

But if you are up for a stogie, give me a call….just kidding, that was a test.

Did you pass?  Why’s my phone ringing?

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Moods spread like chicken pox

Do you ever go into work, say “hello” to someone you know, and they practically bite your head off? Most of the time, you brush it off but if you start getting it left and right, it can hit that one nerve that signals your face to turn into a huge scowl.

Why do people feel the need to spread their bad vibes? Apparently, when you’re in a bad mood, the logical thing to do is the take it out on the next person you see. Give ’em a good yell. Let the door slam in their face. Bump into their shoulder as they walk past.

But what the heck for? What’d they do to you?

Sour moods can cause people to temporarily become egocentric, irrational maniacs who view life as out to get them. Compassion and consideration for others’ feelings go out the door along with any semblance of an ability to smile.

Okay, here’s the rub. Bad moods are a part of life. Can’t avoid ’em. What you can do is practice cooling yourself off. Something crappy just happen to you? Get some fresh air, go for a walk, close your eyes and take deep breaths for five minutes. I can’t stress enough how awesome hitting the gym is cuz lifting weights releases a lot of stress and gets those endorphins going…..plus, heavy cardio kinda gets you high probably from all the oxygen deprivation. Kidding, but you get the point. Do the right thing: quarantine yourself and work on dissipating that bad mood. Cuz if you don’t, stuff like that will come back for revenge.

On the same token, try paying it forward and helping someone un-crinkle their face. If they don’t wanna be cheered up, maybe they just need someone to vent to.

Never make important decisions past midnight

Cuz you’re most likely drunk, tired, or looking for a booty call.

Okay, it’s a facetious notion but it brings me to my general message:

Making decisions when you’re not in your “normal” state of mind usually leads to regret.

What’s that you say? “That’s common sense, you idiot.” Oh really, shmuck? Then why do you keep making the same mistakes over and over? Why do you keep shooting off drunken texts, Facebook posts, and emails to the point that you installed that Gmail app that makes you solve complex math problems before you can hit the “send” button past midnight?

Here’s a quick list of other examples….

“Don’t make important decisions when you’re”:

  • drunk from the happy hour you went to with your coworkers at 4pm
  • depressed cuz they got your order wrong at Starbucks
  • tired from that Tuesday night concert that started at midnight
  • hopped up on caffeine
  • hopped up on drugs (NyQuil, Vicodin, or God knows what else)
  • angry at your better half about hair on the bar of soap (or something important)
  • peeved with your roommate and/or their annoying pet
  • way too happy cuz you just watched Kindergarten Cop again for the twelfth time
  • way too happy cuz you just watched Predator again for the twenty-third time

1

It all comes down to hormones, people. Whether it’s a rush of adrenaline from an emotional high or an overload of cortisol from stress, our choices are influenced on a daily basis by compounds that flow through our body. They can cause a complete lapse in previously established attitudes we may have on any given situation….and encourage a complete 180 degree turn of our personality to create Mr. Hyde (see picture, right).

All of this is totally natural, of course, and can make for a fun night out with your drinking buddies. What I’m talking about, however, is making major life decisions when you’re under the influence of booze, caffeine, sexual eye candy, whatever. Sure, there’s stuff like getting a tattoo at 3am or buying a ’68 Shelby Mustang with your life savings (not necessarily a bad one though….) but you can also screw up your career or personal relationships based on a couple of bad choices.

The saying, “learn from your mistakes”, is a really hackneyed phrase but it also couldn’t ring more true. What I’m trying to prescribe, though, is preventative medicine for bad choices. Identifying your personal risk factors is one thing; identifying them and remembering to take a moment to think is another. Try having a friend give you some Pavlovian love and smack you upside the head every time you’re about to do something stupid.

Especially if you think something is “a really, really good idea” or you’re laughing at your “future self” for what you’re about to do….

Staring Contests (Revisited)

Just a quick follow-up: one of my biggest pet peeves is when people wear shades indoors or when it’s not sunny outside….and when they proceed to stare at everyone around them.

It reminds me of a subway ride I had way back on a rainy morning when I hopped into an empty seat across from a dude wearing aviators. I thought to myself, “Is this guy for real? Shades on a subway when there’s not a spec of sky between all of the grey clouds?”. I gave the guy a break thinking he was probably just hungover and turned my attention to a book.

Then I noticed he was staring at me in my peripheral vision….”jackass”. Gave him a quick look then went back to reading. Two stops go by on the subway. Guy’s still staring, definitely not sleeping. What’s his problem? I honestly am not the kinda guy with an ego but this was gettin’ on my nerves. So what was the logical solution? I put my book down and stared right back at him….for three stops.

He finally looks down to pack up his things. Awesome, I won the staring contest….then I noticed him unfolding his walking cane.

And that’s how I came up with the game:

IDIOT WITH SHADES or INCOGNITO BLIND GUY?

Staring Contests

There are boatloads of studies on anthropological implications of establishing alpha-dominance but the phenomenon of making eye contact with someone still intrigues the hell outta me.

It’s one of the most complex notions of human interaction and also one of the funniest. Have you ever been told it’s polite to make eye contact when you’re speaking with someone? True, for sure. It shows you’re paying attention and not playing back the movie, “Pulp Fiction”, in your head (which is tough enough with all the plot flashbacks….cue “Tasty Burger” video clip).

On the other hand, you’ve got the person that stares waaay too much and doesn’t break
eye contact at all. Or even bothers to blink. It’s like they’re looking into your soul or trying to do a Vulcan mind meld. Cold shower, much?
The runner-up for weird overdoing it is NOT making eye contact at all. Either cuz they’re bored, have attention deficit disorder, or worse, they’re staring at you but just not your eyes. “Hey, why’s this girl staring at my groin?” or “This guy’s staring at my chest too much and drooling like a three month old baby.” Either way, it makes you feel pretty uncomfortable, right? Unless you’re that girl wearing a low cleavage shirt or that guy wearing “nut-huggers” but that’s a discussion for another time.

One final example that I always see is the way people make eye contact on the subway. Normally, you’d think it’s great the way seats always face each other so they’re conducive to conversation with friends or that attractive stranger who’s been smiling at ya for the last two stops. But then again, this isn’t Dr. Who where you go on trippy adventures with people you randomly meet. Nope – 9 out of 10 times people stare up at the ads above the windows or down at people’s shoes to avoid eye contact.

Moral of the story? Never wear dirty shoes. Wait, that’s not it.