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how to become a runner

Running sets you free.

I’m a runner. Running has helped me to lose weight, look better, and feel better about myself. It has helped me to strengthen my willpower. Running has taught me that I’m capable of much more than I thought I was. Needless to say, I think everyone should run.

If running is something that you’ve been thinking of taking up, below you’ll find 10 easy ways to become a runner.

1. Stop Telling Yourself that You Can’t Run.

When I was in middle school the physical education (P.E.) teacher would have us run twice around the school’s soccer field at the start of each P.E. class. And every time I would run 1/8 of the way, and then walk the rest. I had convinced myself that running was for “athletic” people, and I wasn’t athletic, so I  couldn’t run.

Today I run 7 kilometers, three times a week. Which means I can easily run about 20 times around a soccer field. What changed? I stopped telling myself that I couldn’t run.

If you’ve been telling yourself that you can’t run, how do you convince yourself that you can? Well, the other day I read that everyone who is alive today is descended from runners. Why? Because your ancestors survived to pass on their genes by outrunning the non-runners (who were caught and eaten by saber tooth tigers).

So, remember, you’re here today because your ancestors were runners. Running is in your DNA. Say this to yourself: “I can run. I can become a runner.”

2. Get Everything You’ll Need.

The second step to becoming a runner is to get everything that you’ll need. Beware: there’s an entire industry based around running gear and technology. There are running accessories galore. However, you don’t need to go out and spend lots of money to start running. All you really need is comfortable clothes and comfortable running shoes.

Even now that I’m a seasoned runner, I keep my running gear simple:

The only item that you need to be picky with are your running shoes. Go to a running store and ask an expert to help you pick out a running shoe that’s right for you (it depends on the shape of your arch, your mileage, your pronation type, and so on). I wear ASICS running shoes and I love them.

Running costs me about $600 a year, or $50 a month. Not bad.

3. Be Ready to Be Uncomfortable.

Know that running is not always comfortable. When you start out, you’re pushing your body beyond it’s current capabilities, which produces discomfort. But even after you’ve been running for a while, there’s still some discomfort involved with running. After all, you’re doing something that’s taxing on your body and cardiovascular system.

However, anything worth doing brings some discomfort with it. Look at the following:

  • In order to start your own business you have to deal with the discomfort of taking on risk; of having to acquire new skills; of having to hustle for customers; and so on.
  • In order to do well in college you have to deal with the discomfort of studying when you’d rather watch TV; of participating in class discussions when you would rather just zone out at the back of the room; of working on your report when you’d rather be hanging out with your friends; and so on.
  • In order to save money so that you can travel you have to deal with the discomfort of skipping the Starbucks coffee; of foregoing buying those cute shoes all your friends are wearing; of cooking your own food when you would rather just order take-out; and so on.

In order to succeed with running–as with anything in life–you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Running is hard, and that’s one of the things that makes it great.

4. Start Small.

Forget running 5 miles on your first day. Instead, just run for a minute and then walk the rest of the way. Two weeks later, run one minute for every four minutes that you walk. After that, continue to increase the amount of time that you run gradually. Start small, and then make incremental increases.

5. Get a Plan.

In order to become a runner, you need a plan. That is, you need guidance and structure for building your mileage. Find a running plan online, in a magazine, or in a book for runners, and follow it. Here are some plans for you to consider:

6. Quiet Your Mind.

Your worst enemy when you’re trying to become a runner is the little voice in your head. You’ll hear the little voice saying things like the following:

  • “You want to do what? Go out for a run? Are you nuts? Do you know how hard running is?”
  • “It’s been such a tough day today. Let’s just relax and watch some TV. Come on, you deserve it.”
  • “Why don’t you wait until you’ve lost a few pounds before you try running?”

You need to find a way to ignore the little voice in your head. There are three things you can do. First, look for ways to take your attention away from the little voice. Distract yourself from what the little voice is saying by doing any of the following:

  • Plan what you’re going to have for dinner when you get back from your run;
  • Recite a poem that you’ve memorized; or
  • Think of a fond memory, particularly memories related to goals that you’ve achieved in the past.

Second, override what the little voice is saying by reminding yourself of the many benefits of running. Here are a few of them:

  • Running boosts your mood.
  • Running increases bone mass.
  • Running reduces your risk of getting diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
  • Running increases lung function.
  • Running can help you live longer.

And, third, you can look for ways to trick the little voice in your head. Try this:

  • When you hear the little voice complaining, tell it that you’re just going to run around the block once.
  • Then, once you’re out there, talk it into running around the block twice.
  • Continue tricking the little voice in your head in this way until you’ve completed your run (thankfully, the little voice in your head is dumb, and easy to trick).

7. Schedule Your Runs.

In order to run on a consistent basis, you have to schedule your runs. I devote one-hour-a-day to fitness. Here’s my workout schedule:

  • Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I lift weights at the gym from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
  • Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays I run outside from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

I don’t leave my fitness to “when I get around to it” or “when I have some spare time”. I schedule it, so it gets done.

8. Choose Your Running Route.

You don’t just need to know when you’re going running, but also where. The first requisite is that you find a route that’s safe. Consider things like well-lit areas, sidewalks, and the presence of other people who are exercising.

Walking out your front door and running around you neighborhood is often the most convenient thing to do. If there’s a high school near your home you may want to run around their track.

I’m very fortunate that there’s a gorgeous running path right in front of my building that runs parallel to the sea for several miles. If you can find a jogging path near to where you live, that would be ideal.

9. Have an Outcome Goal.

I’ve already stated that I run 7km three times a week. Going out for a run is a process goal. However, ideally, you should also have an outcome goal. That is, a specific outcome that you’re working toward.

I do best when I have a specific outcome to work toward, because I’m an achievement-oriented person. It’s easier for me to get motivated if I feel like I’m working toward something concrete. I’m guessing that a lot of you are the same way.

Ask yourself: What goal am I trying to achieve by running X times a week for Y amount of miles? Here are some examples of outcome-based goals:

  • Run a mile in ten minutes.
  • Run a 5K.
  • Break 30 minutes in a 5K.
  • Run a 10K.
  • Run 30 miles a week.
  • Run a half-marathon.
  • Run a marathon.
  • Finish a sub-4-hour marathon.
  • Qualify for the Boston marathon.

10. Make It Fun.

It’ll be much easier to get yourself to go out for a run if it’s something that you look forward to. You can achieve this by making running fun. Here are three ways to make running fun:

  • Listen to music- create a running playlist filled with songs you love and which fill you with energy.
  • Gamify your runs – look for ways to turn your runs into a game. This can include quests, challenges, rewards, and so on.
  • Run with someone -you can make your runs fun by finding a running buddy you enjoy being with.

Conclusion

Taking up running is one of the best things that I’ve done for myself, and I recommend that everyone try it (with your doctor’s consent). The process above is the one that I used to become a runner, and I’m confident that it’ll work for anyone. Live your best life by taking up running.

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life experiment

Solve any problem you may be having by conducting life experiments.

Why would you want to conduct life experiments? To solve problems. Whenever I have a problem, I solve it by conducting an experiment. I follow a ten-step process which I developed, and which I’m going to share with you in this blog post.

Keep in mind that you can conduct life experiments in any life area. Here are some examples:

  • If you want to lose weight you can conduct experiments to determine which exercise is most efficient in burning calories (or which exercise you’ll stick to).
  • If you have a health problem—such as high cholesterol—you can conduct life experiments to help you determine the diet which is most helpful in helping you to control your symptoms.
  • If you want to create a passive source of income you can conduct life experiments to help you determine which method—of the many that are available—works best for you.
  • If putting your kid to bed every night is an ordeal, you can conduct life experiments to uncover a bedtime routine that will help your child easily transition from wakefulness to sleep

Below I’m going to reveal my process to you, and I’m going to use a life experiment that I’m currently conducting as an example.

1. State Your Problem.

The first step of the process is to state the problem that you want to solve by conducting a life experiment.

On January 28th of this year, I went to the dentist for a routine teeth cleaning. This revealed the following:

  • I have a cavity between two teeth that the dentist wants to fill.
  • My teeth need to be re-mineralized.
  • I’m a coffee drinker, so my teeth are a little bit stained.
  • My gums are somewhat inflamed in some places, and receding in others (studies show that more than 75% of American adults have some form of gum disease).

The dentist gave me a list of about 10 different procedures she thought I needed, most of which sounded rather invasive. In addition, these procedures would cost me a total of $1500. Needless to say, I was not happy.

First, I don’t want the dentist drilling my teeth to fill the cavity that she found. Second, I don’t like the idea of getting fluoride treatments to re-mineralize my teeth. And, third, I honestly felt like she was trying to talk me into procedures that I don’t really need.

Therefore, I decided that I would try to fix this problem by conducting a life experiment. Here’s how I stated my problem:

I want to reverse the cavity that I have between two of my teeth naturally; I want to re-mineralize my teeth naturally; and I want to whiten my teeth.

Here are my teeth at the start of the experiment:

my teeth

2. Conduct Research.

The second step of the process is to conduct research in order to determine what your course of action will be. Make sure that you only rely on high quality resources.

My research uncovered a book called Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition by Ramiel Nagiel. The book is based upon the pioneering nutritional program of dentist Weston Price, former head of research at the National Dental Association. I purchased the Kindle version of the book and read it.

I also found a blog called “Wellness Mama”—a top source for healthy recipes and natural remedies—in which the owner, Katie, writes about ways to live more naturally.

Katie has several blog posts in which she shares everything she does to keep her teeth and gums healthy. She reports that she has successfully reversed cavities and improved her oral health. Here are two of her blog posts that I found particularly helpful:

I also read a few more articles by people who indicated that they had been able to reverse cavities and improve their gum health naturally. In addition, I read Amazon reviews for several products that are credited with being beneficial for teeth and gum health.

3. Construct a Hypothesis.

The third step of the process is to construct a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a supposition made on the basis of limited evidence which is used as a starting point for further investigation.

My hypothesis—for this experiment–is that I can heal my cavity, improve my gum health, and have whiter teeth naturally, without the need of going to the dentist to get expensive, invasive, and possibly unhealthy procedures done.

4. Design an Experiment to Test Your Hypothesis.

Once you’ve done your research and you’ve constructed a hypothesis, you need to design an experiment to test your hypothesis. In designing your experiment you should be able to answer all of the following questions:

  • What You’re Going to Do
  • When You’re Going to Do It
  • How You’re Going To Do It
  • How Will You Know if You Succeeded
  • Establish a Start Date for Your Experiment
  • Establish a Deadline or End Date for Your Experiment

What I’m Doing

Here’s what I’m going to do for my experiment (as well as when and how):

  • Oil pull with one spoonful of organic virgin coconut oil every night before bed, for 20 minutes. Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic dental technique that involves swishing oil in your mouth.
  • Brush my teeth three times a day with my homemade toothpaste, using the Bass Brushing Technique. My homemade toothpaste consists of 3 Tablespoons of Dolomite Powder; 4 Tablespoons of Bentonite Clay; and 1.5 Teaspoons of ground cloves. I’m going to add 3 drops of OraWellness HealThy Mouth Blend to the mix before each use. I’m going to brush as soon as I wake up in the morning, after lunch, and at night immediately after oil pulling.
  • I’m going to take one softgel of Vitamin D-3 5000 IU right before breakfast.
  • I’m going to take two capsules of Blue Ice Royal Butter Oil / Fermented Cod Liver Oil Blend right before breakfast, and 2 right before dinner.
  • I’m going to floss every night right before oil pulling. In addition, I’m going to add one drop of the Healthy Mouth Blend to my dental floss.
  • I’m going to drink water immediately after drinking coffee.
  • I’m going to continue scraping my tongue every morning after brushing my teeth.

How Will I know If the Experiment is Successful

I’ll know if the experiment is successful if I get a clean bill of health after my next dental appointment.

Start and End Dates

Here are the start and end dates of my experiment:

  • Start Date: February 14th 2016
  • End Date: August 15th 2016

5. Gather What You’ll Need

The fifth step of the process is to gather everything that you’ll need (or at least the things that you’ll need in order to get started).

Once I decided what I was going to do, I made a list of all the things I was going to need. With my list in hand, I went to a health food store near my house and bought all of the items on the list which I was able to find there. Then I went on Amazon and ordered the items that weren’t available at the health food store.

I received my packages from Amazon, and then I had everything that I needed.

6. Take Action

The sixth step of the process is to take action. By this point you should already have decided what you’re going to do, as well as how and when you’re going to do it. You should also have everything that you need to get started. Now, act.

Starting on February 14th I’m going to do everything that I planned to do in Step 4 of the experiment process. I will take the action that I planned, how I planned it, and when I planned it. I will take daily action until I reach the end date of my experiment.

7. Monitor, Measure, and Track Your Progress

As anyone who has ever conducted an experiment of any kind knows, you have to monitor, measure, and track your progress. Careful observation is very important during this step of the process.

Every day I will write down on an index card the action related to this experiment that I took on that day. In addition, I will make a note of how my gum and teeth feel, and how they look, as well as anything else that I consider relevant to the experiment.

8. Make Changes as Necessary

The eight step of the process is to make any necessary change as you go along. As your experiment progresses, you may decide to make some modifications. It’s alright to do this, as long as you keep a record of any changes that you’re making.

As I monitor my progress, I may decide that I need to make some changes to the experiment. For example, if I notice that my mouth doesn’t feel as fresh as usual—since my homemade toothpaste consists of a mixture of powders– I might add some peppermint essential oil to my toothpaste.

In addition, if it appears-after a month or so–that my teeth are not re-mineralizing, I’ll consider adding some of the other recommendations for teeth re-mineralization that I found during my research. Here are three that look promising:

Also, if my teeth aren’t looking whiter in about a month’s time, I’ll consider brushing them with activated charcoal twice a week (on Mondays and Thursdays). Lastly, when it’s time to change my toothbrush I’ll consider getting a Bass toothbrush.

Of course, if I feel any pain in my teeth, my gums start to bleed, or there’s any other indication that there’s something wrong, I’ll immediately schedule an appointment with my dentist.

9. Analyze Your Data and Reach a Conclusion.

Once you reach the end date of your experiment you need to analyze your data and reach a conclusion.

I plan to schedule a dentist appointment for August 15th (or close to that date). Based on what my dentist says, I’ll analyze all of the data I gathered throughout my experiment and reach a conclusion on whether the experiment worked or not.

10. Decide What’s Next.

The last step of the process is to decide what to do next.

Whether my experiment works or not, I need to decide what to do once its over. Here are three options:

  • Declare the experiment a failure and ask the dentist to proceed with all of the procedures she recommends.
  • Declare my experiment a success and continue taking the same action.
  • Declare my experiment a success but make modifications to it.

Conclusion

Once again, you can use the 10-part process above to fix any problem you may be having, in any life area. Go ahead and try it out. Live your best life by conducting life experiments.

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overcome perfectionism

Perfectionism is a thief.

Perfectionism—refusing to stand for anything short of perfection–steals all of the following from you:

  • It steals your joy.
  • It steals your self-confidence.
  • It steals your ability to get things done.
  • It steals your passion.
  • It steals your self-acceptance.
  • It steals your ability to grow.

If you have perfectionist tendencies, as many people do, apply the 10 tips below for overcoming perfectionism:

1. Recognize Perfectionism. Some people may not even realize that they’re perfectionists. They may be telling themselves that they just have high standards and strive for excellence. However, there’s a difference between excellence and perfectionism. The questions below can help you to identify whether you’re a perfectionist:

  • Do you have trouble meeting your own standards?
  • Do you have an overwhelming fear of failure?
  • Do you think that mistakes are landmines (instead of stepping stones)?
  • Do you find yourself missing deadlines because you can’t get yourself to stop going over your work?
  • Do people often say that you have unrealistic expectations?
  • Does your self-confidence depend on your accomplishments?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you may have a problem with perfectionism.

2. Learn How to Take Criticism. Nobody likes being criticized. However, some people know how to take criticism. They do the following:

  • They evaluate who the criticism is coming from and question why that person is being critical.
  • They identify anything in the criticism that they can use to improve.
  • They simply discard any criticism that is unhelpful.

Other people deal poorly with criticism. These people do the following:

  • They feel that any criticism, regardless of where it’s coming from, is a personal attack and a comment about their self-worth.
  • Instead of looking for anything they can learn from the criticism, they just feel bad because they were criticized.
  • They replay the criticism over and over in their heads.

Perfectionists tend to be in the second group: they’re devastated by criticism. Therefore, they try to avoid any criticism by always going over and beyond what’s expected of them. The idea is to be so meticulous, that no one could possibly find fault with what they did.

Well, guess what? Other people will always find a way disagree with you, criticize you, or point out improvements that need to be made, no matter how hard you try to do a “perfect” job. Hence, instead of trying to avoid criticism at all costs, a much better strategy is to learn how to take criticism.

3. Recognize the Difference Between Healthy Striving and Perfectionism. Wanting to improve yourself—whether it’s losing weight, increasing your running speed, reading more books, getting better at public speaking, and so on—is a good thing. However, there’s a difference between healthy striving and perfectionism.

Brené Brown– an American scholar, author, and public speaker–describes healthy striving as seeking excellence from a place of wholeness. That is, you’re happy with who you are, and you know that you can be even better.

Perfectionism, on the other hand, comes from a feeling of not being good enough. People who are perfectionists think that if they achieve X or Y standard, they’ll finally be able to feel good about themselves.

To put it another way, healthy striving is about honoring yourself by endeavoring to achieve your full potential. Perfectionism is about dishonoring yourself by telling yourself that there are certain things that you need to achieve before you’re “enough”.

4. Set Realistic Goals. Perfectionists set goals that are completely out of their reach. Then they spend a few months feeling angry and frustrated because no matter what they do their goal is still way off in the distance. The solution to this is to start setting realistic goals.

Realistic goals are just out of your reach. They require you to stretch some, but allow the likelihood of success. Once you reach your realistic goal, set another goal that’s just a little farther off. Keep going in this way and you’ll soon realize that you’ve made a lot of progress.

5. Identify the “Must-Haves” and the “Nice-to-Haves”. Suppose that you’re house-hunting. The first thing that you need to do is to identify your “must-have” features. These might be something like the following:

  • Three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms.
  • A large kitchen.
  • Quiet neighborhood.
  • Good school district.
  • Lots of light.

Then think of your “nice-to-have” features. These could include the following:

  • A fireplace.
  • A swimming pool.
  • A patio.
  • A den.

Now you have two choices. You can either search for a house that includes just your “must-have” features”, or you can search for a house that includes both your “must-have” and your “nice-to-have” features.

Of course, a house that contains both kinds of features will take longer to find and it will cost more. So the question becomes: Are you willing to pay the extra price — in terms of both time and money–for the “nice-to-have” features?

You should ask yourself these same questions for anything that you do:

  • A report you have to hand in to your boss.
  • A project for a client.
  • The vase that you’re making for your pottery class; and so on.

What are the “must-have” features? Which are simply “nice-to-have” features? Although perfectionists have a tendency to want to include the “nice-to-have” features in everything that they do, in most cases, the “must-have” features are good enough.

Include the “nice-to-have” features only if it’s something that’s worth the extra effort, and you have the necessary time and resources to do so.

6. Lower Your Standards. A big problem for perfectionists is setting standards that are way too high. You can correct this problem by lowering your standards. Instead of aiming for what you consider to be 100%, aim for what looks like a 90% effort to you. Then, analyze what happened:

  • Did the sky come crashing down?
  • Was your boss upset because the project wasn’t good enough?
  • Did someone complain?
  • Was the client disappointed?
  • Are there any negative consequences?

If everything was fine at your 90% effort, try lowering your standards to 80%. Is everything still OK? Then consider lowering your standards further still.

Of course, your aim here isn’t to start doing things subpar, but to test your standards with the goal of making them more realistic.

7. Try New Things. Perfectionists have a tremendous fear of making mistakes. And all this does is hold them back. After all, making mistakes is how we grow. In addition, being able to tolerate mistakes is a vital component of innovation and risk taking.

One way to overcome your fear of making mistakes is by trying new things. When you’re learning something new you’re far from perfect. In fact, just the opposite. You make mistakes, you fall, and you make a mess of things.

By allowing yourself to make mistakes in areas in which you’re a total newbie, you’ll become more comfortable with making mistakes, in all areas of your life.

8. Move Away from Anything that Reinforces Your Perfectionist Tendencies. A while ago I was watching a TV show in which the protagonist was this gorgeous woman who was a brilliant neurosurgeon. She had attended top learning institutions in the US and she spoke several languages. When they mentioned that she was also a marathon runner, I changed the channel.

The world around us sets impossibly high standards:

  • Business gurus tell us to always over-deliver.
  • You constantly hear slogans like the following: “No one remembers who came in second.”
  • Every magazine that you open is filled with models with flawless bodies.
  • Everyone on Facebook pretends to have a perfect marriage, perfect kids, a perfect house, a perfect business . . .

It just doesn’t end. Move away from all of the stimuli that reinforces your perfectionist tendencies:

  • Stop reading magazines that make you feel like a failure.
  • Unfollow anyone on Twitter who is constantly going on and on about how perfect their life is.
  • Stop hanging out with people who make you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough.

Instead, do this:

  • Read material that empowers you.
  • Surround yourself with people who accept you as you are and encourage to be even better.
  • Follow people on social media that inspire and motivate you.

9. Accept that You’ll Never Be Finished. The other day I was reading an article written by a woman with baby twin boys. She was complaining that she was never done.

If one twin was crying and she finally managed to get him to sleep, a minute later the other twin would wake up and start crying. As soon as she changed one twin’s diaper, the other twin needed to be changed.

That’s what life is like. Look at the following:

  • You may have achieved your ideal weight and be doing really well at work, but then your significant other loses his job and your relationship starts to suffer due to the stress this causes.
  • Then you get your relationship back on track, but your boss leaves and her replacement is impossible to deal with.
  • You spend a couple of months looking for a new job, and you find something that’s even better than the job you had before. However, while you were busy job hunting you didn’t have time to exercise, so you gained weight.

See how that goes? Life is in a constant flux. Even if you manage to get to a point where absolutely everything in your life is “perfect”—and this is a very big “if” –it’s almost guaranteed that it will be short lived. In order to overcome perfectionism, accept that you’ll never be “finished”.

10. Enjoy the Ride. Perfectionists keep their eyes firmly focused on the destination. That’s all that matters to them. In fact, they’re so focused on the destination, that they fail to enjoy the ride.

In order to overcome your perfectionist tendencies, keep in mind that the destination is just the cherry on top. The journey is the ice cream, the fudge, the whipped cream, the caramel, and the marshmallow crème. Look at the following:

  • You haven’t run a 10K yet, but feel satisfied that today you ran 6 kilometers.
  • You can’t leave your day job yet, but be proud that your side business is growing day by day.
  • You still can’t play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano, but play those pieces that you do know with joy.

Conclusion

Refuse to allow perfectionism to continue wreaking havoc on your life. Start by applying the 10 tips above. Live your best life by overcoming perfectionism.

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Give yourself permission

The only person you need permission from is you.

When we’re kids we have to ask permission for everything:

  • We have to ask our parents for permission to ride our bikes outside.
  • We have to ask for permission to watch TV.
  • We have to ask for permission to have a snack.
  • We have to raise our hands in class and ask for permission to speak.
  • We even have to ask the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom.

Then we grow up, but we continue to think that we have to ask others for permission. Well, guess what! You’re an adult now. You no longer need anyone else’s permission. The only person you need permission from is yourself. So stop withholding permission from yourself. Instead, give it freely!

What do you need permission for? Here are 50 things you may want to give yourself permission for:

1. I give myself permission to take breaks.

2. I give myself permission to be lazy on Sundays: to sleep in and wear pajamas all day.

3. I give myself permission to take good care of myself.

4. I give myself permission to laugh.

5. I give myself permission to play.

6. I give myself permission to make mistakes.

7. I give myself permission to say “no” to demands on my time that are simply draining.

8. I give myself permission to remove toxic people from my life.

9. I give myself permission to say “yes” to what I want.

10. I give myself permission to go on adventures.

11. I give myself permission to step out of my comfort zone.

12. I give myself permission to fulfill my lifelong dreams.

13. I give myself permission to ask for what I want.

14. I give myself permission to be who I am.

15. I give myself permission to try again.

16. I give myself permission to have fun.

17. I give myself permission to give myself what I need.

18. I give myself permission to design my own life.

19. I give myself permission to ignore naysayers.

20. I give myself permission to listen to my gut when it tries to tell me that something isn’t right.

21. I give myself permission to stay focused on what’s important to me.

22. I give myself permission to let go of the expectations of others.

23. I give myself permission to have my own agenda.

24. I give myself permission to be whatever body shape I like.

25. I give myself permission to be imperfect.

26. I give myself permission to ask for help.

27. I give myself permission to stop caring what others think of me.

28. I give myself permission to write a lousy first draft.

29. I give myself permission to move on.

30. I give myself permission to pivot – if I don’t like the direction I’m moving in, I can shift direction.

31. I give myself permission to start over.

32. I give myself permission to create—paint, play an instrument, compose songs, knit, and so on.

33. I give myself permission to start a business.

34. I give myself permission to make more money.

35. I give myself permission to validate myself.

36. I give myself permission to be a beginner, and be comfortable with not knowing, when I’m learning something new.

37. I give myself permission to grow.

38. I give myself to be happy.

39. I give myself permission to smile a lot.

40. I give myself permission to succeed.

41. I give myself permission to eat anything I want, in moderation.

42. I give myself permission to start now, even if I don’t have all of my ducks in a row.

43. I give myself permission to act boldly.

44. I give myself permission to forgive myself for the times I haven’t acted in the best way I could have, for the times I’ve let opportunities slip by, and for the times I haven’t stood up for myself.

45. I give myself permission to release the past.

46. I give myself permission to be OK with where I am now.

47. I give myself permission to be a hero on a journey.

48. I give myself permission to shine and stand out.

49. I give myself permission to step into greatness.

50. I give myself permission to conquer the world.

Conclusion

The next time you feel like you have to ask someone else for permission for something that you need, look in the mirror and ask yourself. Then tell yourself: Permission granted! Give yourself permission to live your best life.

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ways to become cultured

People who are cultured have an appreciation for beauty and the finer things in life.

The Russian writer Anton Chekhov once wrote the following: “In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent.” But, what does it mean to be cultured? Here are some possible meanings:

  • To be cultured means to be educated.
  • Knowing about a variety of subjects.
  • Being refined and sophisticated.
  • Being curious, unprejudiced, and open-minded.
  • Being tolerant and respectful of people who are different from us.
  • Living a life of excellence and discernment.

Below you’ll find 20 ways to become more cultured:

1. Learn How to Appreciate Art.

Cultured people know how to appreciate art. In order to fully appreciate master paintings, sculptures, prints, and so on, you need to have certain technical skills and knowledge. To be cultured, you should learn how to view art through the lenses of line, light, perspective, composition, and other crucial elements of craft. Here are three ways to do this:

2. Recognize the World’s 50 Greatest Paintings.

A cultured person should be able to recognize, identify the artist, and know a little about each of the world’s 50 greatest paintings. Get a book such as 50 Paintings You Should Know, or do some research online.

3. Go to Museums and Art Galleries.

Visit every important museum and art gallery in your city. If you can, expand that to the major museums in your country. Of course, if you can travel to the best museums in the world–including El Prado, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and so on–that would be ideal.

4. Recognize the World’s 50 Greatest Buildings.

From the Colosseum to the Chrysler Building, you should be able to recognize the world’s greatest buildings. In addition, you should know who built them, when, and the building’s intended purpose. Get started with the world’s 50 greatest buildings.

5. Recognize the World’s 25 Greatest Sculptures.

There are incredible sculptures from all around the world that every cultured person should be able to recognize, from The Winged Victory of Samothrace–also known as the Nike of Samothrace–, to the Leshan Giant Buddha.

Get started with a book such as Sculpture: From Antiquity to the Present Day, or do research online. There’s a good list of great sculptures from around the world here.

6. Read 50 Books From the Canon of Western Literature.

The canon of Western literature is a list of the books that Western scholars generally accept as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. That is, the books by Western authors that have the greatest artistic merit.

You can find many lists of books that are included in the canon online. This one is found in the appendix to Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. Pick 50 of these books, and read them.

7. Read Authors From 25 Different Countries.

The problem with the canon of Western literature is that it leaves out great books from most of the countries in the world. You can bridge that gap by making sure that you include books from at least 25 different countries in your reading list.

You can use the list of books read by Ann Morgan as a reference. She spent a year reading books from every country in the world. The list of the books she read is here. Pick 25 of them and start going through them.

8. Try Food From 30 Different Countries.

A cultured person has sampled food from many different countries. Although it would be ideal to travel to different places to sample their food, depending on where you live, that’s not essential.

For example, Charles Biblios lives in New York City and is on a mission to try food from every country without leaving NYC. Even you don’t live in a cosmopolitan city, it’s very likely that there are at least a few ethnic restaurants in your city. Make a list of these restaurants and go try them.

9. Develop Religious Literacy.

Religious literacy—the knowledge of basic teachings, symbols, practices, founders, institutions, and values of the world’s major religious traditions—can help us to better understand the world around us.

The world’s major religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In order to find out more about these religions you can do the following:

  • Talk to someone who practices the religion you want to know more about and ask them questions.
  • Visit their places of worship.
  • Find a book you can read which does a good job of summarizing the basic precepts of the religions you want to know more about. One such book is The World’s Religions
  • Do some research online.
  • Take an online course, such as Cultural Literacy for Religion.

10. Listen to Classical Music.

The music genre that is most often associated with culture is classical music. Begin by listening to, and familiarizing yourself with, the 10 pieces of classical music that everyone should know.

11. Be Familiar With the World’s 10 Most Important Operas.

Opera and culture go hand in hand. Watching and listening to opera can help us to see, hear, and experience the world more richly. You can get started with Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).

Although it’s always better to experience opera live, watching it on your TV or laptop will do until you have the opportunity to attend the real thing.

12. Be Familiar With the World’s 10 Most Important Ballets.

Ballet, like opera, is at the core of culture. When attending a ballet performance you get to listen to some of the most iconic music ever written and watch beautiful choreography.

You can start with Swan Lake by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky. Like opera, the real thing is best, but watching from home will do.

13. Listen to Music From 35 Different Countries.

Just as you should read books from different countries in order to be cultured, you should also listen to music from different countries. YouTube is a goldmine for finding music from other countries.

You can start by listening to a Tamborito from Panama here.

14. Go to the Theater.

Live performance is an important art form which goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Ideally you would travel to New York to see a Broadway play, or to Shakespeare’s Globe in London to see one of Shakespeare’s plays.

However, you can get started in your own city by attending plays put on by your local theater company or by traveling theatrical groups.

15. Watch Foreign Films.

Foreign films allow you to get a glimpse of life in places you may never visit. It imbues you with a new understanding of foreign traditions and viewpoints. You can get started with “Red”, one of the films that make up Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy.

16. Learn Proper Manners and Etiquette.

I already mentioned Chekhov’s letter to his brother in this blog’s introduction. In said letter Chekhov indicates that cultured people are always kind, gentle, and polite. That is, cultured people are respectful of others.

One way to help ensure that you treat others respectfully is by learning proper manners and etiquette. After all, good manners make things in life smoother and more pleasant for everyone. In addition, the most elegant person in the room is not the one that is best dressed, but the one with the most beautiful manners.

17. Keep Up With Current Events.

A cultured person is aware of what’s happening in the world, economically and politically. For important stories, make sure that you know not just the who, the where, the how, and the when, but also the the why. In addition, come up with your own ideas on what should be done about the situation.

18. Travel.

Part of being cultured is being familiar with different parts of the world, and the best way to achieve this is by traveling.

In addition, as Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” The more you interact with people from other cultures through travel the more you realize that–in the ways that really matter–we’re all pretty much alike.

19. Learn a New Language.

There are many ways in which learning another language will help you to become more cultured. Here are three of them:

  • First, you’ll be able to understand cultural references and nuances.
  • Second, it helps you to grasp different ways of thinking and life perspectives.
  • And third, it allows you to pepper your conversation with foreign words and phrases. This last one is awfully pretentious, but what’s the point of being cultured if you can’t show off once in a while. 🙂

Duolingo is one of the tools I’m using to learn French, and it’s surprisingly good. Choose a language–I would recommend French, since it’s often thought of as the language of culture–and go through all of the modules for that language on Duolingo. When you’re done you won’t be fluent in that language, but you’ll have a good grasp of it.

2o. Memorize Five Poems.

Poems can teach you to think in terms of similes and metaphors, which is one of the hallmarks of intelligence. In addition, they often make reference to history, myth, and literature, which can be useful in familiarizing yourself with these subjects. Finally, great poems are filled with rich language and emotion.

Pick five poems you like, and memorize them. A fun one to try is Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (which I memorized in the 5th grade and have never forgotten). Here’s a simple procedure for memorizing poems.

Conclusion

Live your best life by becoming more cultured. You can get started with the 20 suggestions outlined above.

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make time for your goals

Stop telling yourself that you don’t have the time to achieve your goals.

Whatever your goals are–starting a YouTube channel, running a 10K, learning to code, and so on–if you’re not working toward achieving them, you probably have a long list of excuses which purportedly explain why you’re still in stand-by mode. And lack of time is very likely to be at the top of that list.

If so, you need to stop using a lack of time as an excuse and start making the time to pursue what you want. But how do you find time when you’re incredibly busy? By reading this post and applying the tips that you like best.

Below you’ll find 20 ways to make time to achieve your goals.

1. Use Your Mornings. Start getting up earlier and use that time to work on your goals — even if you have to use the first ten minutes to clear away brain fog. Mornings are a great time to work on your goals for all of the following reasons:

  • It’s the time when you’re least likely to be interrupted — by your kids, your neighbors, your boss, and so on.
  • You’re well-rested after a full night’s sleep.
  • Since it’s the start of the day, nothing has happened yet that could get you off track.

2. Use Your Nights. Go to bed forty minutes later and work on your goals at night. If you find that you’re too tired at night to muster up the willpower to work on your goals, start taking a twenty-minute power nap in the afternoon.

3. Use Your Lunch Hour. Pass up invitations from colleagues to join them for lunch. Instead, pack your lunch, eat at your desk, and use your lunch hour to write your novel, learn to draw, take an online course, or take some step toward the achievement of your goals.

4. Use Your Commute. Work on your goals during your commute. Do the following:

  • Write on the train.
  • Listen to a French course as you drive to work.
  • Work on your weight-loss goal by biking to your place of employment.

The possibilities are endless. Instead of thinking of your commute as wasted time, think of it as your goal achievement time.

5. Cut Out One Activity. Take a good hard look at how you’re spending your time. What activity can you cut out of your schedule in order to make time so that you can work on your goals?

The most obvious activities to cut out are watching TV, playing games online, and hanging out on the internet — watching  cat videos, scrolling through your Twitter stream, reading celebrity news, and so on.

6. Make Your Most Important Goal a Priority. Sometimes, in order to do something of high value—such as working on your most important goal—, you have to give up something of lower value. What you’re giving up may be important to you—such as your book club, or your PTA volunteering hours-, but it’s not as important as your goal, so you give it up.

After all, you can’t find the time to do it all, but you can find the time to do what’s most important to you.

7. Become a Time Warrior. In his book Time Warrior, Steve Chandler uses the image of a swordsman in order to show his readers how to make time to do what is most important to them. He explains that you have to pull out your sword ahead of you and ruthlessly carve out the time that you need to create, exercise, learn new skills, and so on.

Once you’ve carved out the time that you need, take your sword to all circumstances that try to get in your way.

8. Block Out the Time. If there’s a goal that you really want to achieve, then it’s worth blocking out the time in your day-to-day life that’s necessary to achieve it. Take out your schedule and identify when you’re going to work on your goal — for example, Monday at 10:00 a.m.

By scheduling time to work on your goal, you know exactly when you’ll be working on it, instead of just leaving it up to chance.

9. Use Scraps of Time. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to have a large chunk of time to work on your goals. If all you can carve out are fifteen minutes here and there throughout the day, use that time. Do the following:

  • Try to get to meetings a few minutes early; use the time while you’re waiting for others to get there to work on your goals.
  • Work on your goals during your coffee break.
  • Work on your goals while you wait for your kid to finish with soccer practice.

Depending on your goal, even a minute here and there can be productive. Are you standing in line at the bank? Take out your list of the 25 most common French verbs and read through it.

10. Set a Quota. Instead of focusing on the amount of time that you need to work on your goal, focus on achieving a daily quota. Here are three examples:

  • Instead of telling yourself that you need to do 45 minutes of daily cardio, tell yourself that you need to take 10,000 steps throughout the day.
  • Instead of telling yourself that you need to write for an hour each day, set the quota of writing 750 words a day.
  • Instead of telling yourself that you need to study French for half-an-hour a day, tell yourself that you have to learn 15 new words in French every day.

Each day make sure that you meet your quota. Some days will be easier than others. On the slow days make peace with the fact that you’re going to leave some stuff on your to do list undone.

11. Set Very Small Goals. If you’re insanely busy, make your goal quota very small — such as writing 250 words a day, or learning five new French words a day. But work on your goal every day.

12. Be a Weekend Warrior. You’ve heard of weekend warriors: people who don’t get much exercise during the week but spend their weekends jogging, hiking, hitting the gym to lift weights, and so on. If your weekdays are so hectic that you can’t possibly work on your goals from Monday to Friday, then be a weekend warrior when it comes to achieving your goals.

13. Disappear. If you’re spending a lot of your time on other people—chatting with friends on the phone, catching up with neighbors at the pharmacy, going to parties you would rather not attend, and so on–, practice the art of disappearing. And just how does one disappear?

Here are three ways:

  • Before accepting a party invitation, stop and remind yourself what parties are like. Then, politely decline.
  • If you run into an acquaintance while grocery shopping, politely nod and smile, and continue to move forward with your cart. Forward motion is your friend when you’re trying to disappear.
  • Always have an escape route ready: “I’m so sorry I have to rush off, but I’m late for . . .”, “I’m running to. . .”, “I better get home before . . .” You get the picture.

14. Negotiate for Time. Look for ways to negotiate for time:

  • Can you negotiate with your employer that you’ll work longer hours Monday to Thursday, and then take Fridays off ?
  • Can you negotiate with your spouse that you’ll be in charge of morning chores—such as getting the kids ready for school–, and they’ll be in charge of evening chores—such as clearing the table and washing the dishes?
  • Can you make a carpooling agreement with other parents in your neighborhood?

Make time by negotiating for it.

15. Don’t Let Your Emotions Get In the Way. A lot of people waste tons of time dealing with their moods and emotions. If your emotions get in the way when you’re trying to work on your goals, force yourself to work on them anyway. Once you start working on your goal, it will get rid of all those moods you’re having.

16. Shoot Ducks. Vickie Taylor recommends that you make time to write by shooting ducks. Of course, the process of shooting ducks works for any goal, not just writing. Here’s what to do:

  • Print a picture of a duck and make several copies.
  • On each duck, write an excuse that you use explaining why you don’t have time to work on your goals.
  • Put your ducks up on your refrigerator.
  • Look at each excuse and find a way to shoot each one down.

Look at the following example:

  • Excuse: I don’t have time to write because I have too many errands to run.
  • Shoot it down: I can buy in bulk, patronize merchants that are closer to where I live (the five-mile radius rule), and find a supermarket that delivers.

Once you’ve shot down one excuse, start looking for ways to shoot down the next one.

17. Work On Your Psychological Discipline. Keep in mind that making time to work on your goals is, to a large extent, about psychological discipline. A lot of the reasons that we use to explain why we don’t have time to work on our goals are just excuses that we’re using to avoid the hard work of writing, exercising, learning a new skill, and so on.

After all, cleaning the fridge is easy; creating an eBook that others will want to buy is hard.

You need to develop the psychological discipline to work on your goals, even if your inner critic is screaming at the top of its lungs that the laundry needs to be done, the carpet needs cleaning, or the cat’s litter box needs to be scooped, right this minute.

18. Repeat a Mantra. Make the following your new mantra: “Winners work on their goals; everyone else makes excuses.”

19. Focus. It’s not so much about how much time you have to work on your goals, as it is about the quality of your goal-achievement time. That is, when you’re working on your goals, are you completely focused on the task, or are you trying to answer emails and catch up on Twitter as you write?

Work on your goals with laser-like focus.

20. Give Yourself Permission to Work on Your Goals. When the world around us is swirling in chaos, we often feel that taking the time to work on our goals is a luxury that we can’t indulge in at the moment. However, working on your dreams isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Write yourself a permission slip if you need to; but get to work on your goals.

Conclusion

If there’s a goal that’s really important to you, don’t use lack of time as an excuse not to get to work on it. Live your best life by making time to work on your goals. The 20 tips above are a great place to start.

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alternatives to new years resolutions

New Year’s resolutions aren’t for everybody.

Maybe you feel like you want to do something for the New Year, but you don’t really want to set resolutions. Fortunately, New Year’s resolutions aren’t your only option. As with almost everything else in life, you have alternatives.

Below you’ll find 10 alternatives to setting New Year’s resolutions.

1. Create a Bucket List For the New Year. Back in May–which is my birth month–I wrote a post on creating a bucket list each year for your birthday filled with all the things you want to be, do, and experience before turning a year older. In much the same way, for the new year you can create a bucket list for the year. Here are some ideas:

  • Attend the Rio 2016 Olympics
  • Try Ceviche
  • Finish a Book In One Sitting
  • Get a Professional Photo Shoot Done
  • Vote in a Presidential Election

Need more ideas? Here are 10,000 bucket list ideas for you to pick and choose from.

2. Follow a Monthly 30-Day Challenge. Come up with a list of twelve 30-day challenges, and complete one for each month of the year. What’s a 30-day challenge? A 30-day challenge consists of setting a small goal that can be achieved in 30 days, along with the specific action that you’ll be taking each day to achieve the goal.

For example, for January you could create a 30-day decluttering challenge. What action will you be taking each and every day in January in order to declutter? You could do the following: Every day during the month of January, choose five items to donate, throw out, sell, or give away.

That way, by the end of January you’ll have decluttered 155 items. Not bad. Set another 30-day challenge for February, another one for March, and so on. By the end of the year you’ll have achieved 12 small goals.

For 30-day challenge ideas, head on over to my post, Thirty 30-Day Challenges to Jump-Start the Best Version of Your Life.

3. Take a Yearly Challenge. Every year Mark Zuckerberg–the founder of Facebook–gives himself a personal challenge for the year. One year his challenge was to learn Mandarin. Another year he set the challenge of not eating any meat he hadn’t killed himself.

This year he wants to build a robot. Here’s Zuckerberg’s announcement:

“My personal challenge for 2016 is to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work. You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.”

Follow in Zuckerberg’s footsteps and set a personal challenge for yourself this year. One idea is to give yourself a reading challenge. Another idea is to challenge yourself to save $1000–or the amount of your choice–by the end of the year. Or, you could try to build your own robot. 🙂

4. Create a List of Things to Look Forward To. What are you looking forward to this year? Maybe you have a great vacation planned, or a friend is getting married, or there’s a writing workshop that you’re really looking forward to attending.

You can also include small things, such as the following:

  • A novel that’s coming out this year by your favorite author.
  • An exhibit that will be on view at a nearby museum.
  • A new restaurant that’s opening downtown.
  • The new season of your favorite TV show.
  • A new technological gadget that will be coming out this year.

Creating a list of things that you’re looking forward to will make you hopeful for the new year.

5. Decide What to Track or Measure. This year, come up with a list of things that you’re going to track or measure. Here are some examples:

  • I will keep a time log.
  • I will keep a food log.
  • I will keep track of how I spend my money.
  • I will keep track of my weight.

You don’t need to decide what you’ll be doing with the information you’ll be gathering at this point. Instead, you’ll probably come up with ideas as you go along.

For example, keeping a time log may help you to realize that you’re spending way too much on social media. This could lead you to set a limit such as the following: limit time on social media to fifteen minutes a day. Just start measuring and see what comes out of it.

6. Decide on One-Word for the Year. Pick a word to guide you throughout the year. Why just one word? Because one word gives you clarity and focus.

If you were to sit down and write down everything that you want for the new year, and then read over your list, you’d see certain patterns and themes emerging. Once you have these patterns and themes, boil it all down to the one word that encapsulates what you want for the year.

Here are some ideas for your one-word:

  • Flourish
  • Discipline
  • Simplify
  • Joy
  • Serenity
  • Fun
  • Excitement
  • Action

When you have your word for the year you can choose to share it on oneword365.com.

7. Reboot an Area of Your Life. Maybe there’s one area of your life that has gone completely off course and you wish you could just hit Ctrl+Alt+Del and start all over again. You may have gained weight, gone into debt, or become disillusioned with your work. If this is you, use the new year to get a fresh start.

As an illustration, if you’re unhappy with the way you’ve been eating, reboot by going on a detox diet. These are focused, short term diets that allow you to jump-start a weight loss program or help you to alter your eating habits. Keep in mind that the detox diets that are worthwhile are those that limit processed, high-fat, and sugary foods, and replace them with more fruits and vegetables.

If you want more ideas on how to get a fresh start in different areas of your life, here are ten rebooting strategies for you to consider.

8. Take a Life Audit. One option for the new year is to take a life audit. How are you doing in life? If you were to grade yourself in each of your life areas–relationships, work, finances, health, and so on–how would you do? What areas need improvement? What do you need to do to “raise your grade”?

Start the year by giving yourself a life audit. Once you know where you are now, you can decide where you want to be by the end of the year. Then, at the end of the year, audit yourself again to see if you improved. Here’s how to give yourself a life audit.

9. Take On a 365-Day Project. For a 365-day project, you pick something that you’re going to do every single day of the new year. Like what? Here are some examples:

  • Take a photograph every single day of the year and post it on Instagram.
  • Write 750 words every day of the year.
  • Wake up at the same time every day of the year.
  • Read a short story every day of the year.

You can find more ideas for 365-day projects here.

10. Use New Year Prompts. Decide what you want for the New Year by using prompts. Here are five prompts taken from my post, 36 Prompts to Help You Plan an Awesome New Year:

  • One habit I’m going to build this year:
  • One habit I’m going to break this year:
  • One person I’m going to spend more time with this year:
  • One thing I’m going to create this year:
  • One adventure I’m going on this year:

Conclusion

I hope you were inspired by at least one of the ten alternatives to New Year’s resolutions which I list in this post. Have a great year by either setting New Year’s resolutions, or choosing one of the alternatives above.

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reading challenge

Take a reading challenge in 2016.

Is “read more” one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2016? If so, you can accomplish this resolution by taking a reading challenge. There are many ways to do this. One way is to choose 52 books that you want to read and then read one per week until the end of 2016. Another way is to follow the reading challenge below.

This reading challenge contains 12 tasks; complete one per month. For each task I’ve recommended books for you to consider, but it’s entirely up to you which books you read. Here are the 12 tasks:

1. Read a Memoir. While the words “autobiography” and “memoir” are often used interchangeably, there are some differences between the two. For one, memoirs are more literary and don’t place the same importance on meticulous fact-checking as autobiographies do. Second, anyone can write a memoir, while autobiographies are–for the most part–written by famous people.

Here are two popular memoirs:

2. Read a Horror Book. A lot of people don’t read the horror genre. However, many consider horror to be one of the basic elements of fiction. Horror books include everything from literary classics, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to novels like Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.

3. Read a Collection of Short Stories. One of the benefits of reading a collection of short stories is that you can read one story a day. A good option for a short story collection to read is A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by American author Flannery O’Connor.

Another collection of short stories to consider is Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales by Ray Bradbury.

4. Read a Play. Have you read all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays? No? Then reading one of Shakespeare’s plays is an option for this task. After all, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

Other options include the following:

5. Read a Book on Philosophy. Why read philosophy? Because it can help us to find meaning in life and–as Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in “The Brothers Karamazov”–“pull ourselves up out of the maelstrom of daily circumstance”. Here are two philosophy books you should consider reading:

6. Read a Book With More than 750 Pages. Long books can be a joy to read since they allow the author to develop the characters fully, so that they become your friends and you care deeply about them and their fate.

Welsh author Ken Follett writes sweeping novels that span decades and chronicle important events in history. Two of his lengthy novels that are definitely worth the effort that it takes to read them are The Pillars of the Earth and Fall of Giants.

7. Read a Short Book. After reading a book with more than 750 pages, reward yourself by reading a short book, which we’ll define as a book that has about 100 pages. Here are two popular short books to choose from:

8. Read A Book by a Literature Nobel Laureate. The Nobel Prize in literature is one of the world’s most important benchmarks of literary excellence. The prize has been awarded since 1901 to the present. However, it wasn’t awarded in seven occasions, and it’s been shared four times. This means that you have 112 authors to choose from.

Here are three of those authors, along with their most important work:

9. Read a Book Set in Asia. Fortunately, there are many great books set in Asia. One of these is Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel which is set in Japan, before and after WWII. Another one is The Kite Runner. Although part of the novel takes place in California, Afghanistan is at the center of the story.

A third must-read novel set in Asia is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami. It’s set in Tokyo, Japan.

10. Read a Dystopian Novel. While a “utopia” is an ideal society, a dystopia is the exact opposite. In dystopian novels, something terrible of epic proportions has happened—for example, a devastating world war, a disease that has wiped out a large percentage of the world’s population, or an environmental disaster with dire repercussions.

In an effort to rebuild itself and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, society puts governmental, religious, and/or technological controls and restrictions in place which, in effect, wipe out individuality and freedom of expression.

Three dystopian novels that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat are the following:

11. Read a Science Book. When was the last time you read a science book? About a million years ago? Yeah, me too. Let 2016 be the year that changes. Here are three science books to choose from:

12. Read a Travelogue. A travelogue, as the name suggests, is an account of a person’s trip or journey. Popular examples of travelogues include Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto “Che” Guevara; and Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger.

Bonus Tasks

If you finish the challenge early, here are some bonus tasks:

  • Read a Bildungsroman — A Coming of Age Story.
  • Read a Novel by An African Writer.
  • Read a Novel by A Latin American Writer.
  • Read a Book That Was Made Into a Film.
  • Read a Mystery.
  • Read a Book That Was Turned Into a TV Series.
  • Read a Book by the Ancient Greeks.
  • Read a Poetry Collection.
  • Read a Sci-Fi or Fantasy Novel.
  • Read a 19th Century Classic.
  • Read an 18th Century Classic.
  • Read a Book With a Female Protagonist.
  • Read a Book Published in 2015 or 2016.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that there are ways to cross off more than one task by reading just one book. For example, “The Good Earth” was written by a Nobel Laureate in Literature, and it’s set in Asia. If you find ways to cross off more than one task at once, go right ahead and do so. After all, it’s efficient, and I value efficiency. 🙂

Have a great 2016 by giving yourself a reading challenge.

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mental toughness

Those who succeed in life are mentally tough.

The Navy Seals, for those who have never heard of them, are the U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force. Their job is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. Most of the people who try out for the Seals don’t make it. What separates the successful candidates from those who are sent home is mental toughness.

As it turns out, mental toughness isn’t just important for success if you’re interested in becoming a Navy Seal. Instead, it’s important for everyone. Whatever goal it is that you want to achieve, it will take mental toughness to do all of the following:

  • Take action on a regular basis;
  • Overcome failure, obstacles, and setbacks;
  • Ignore your critics; and
  • Stay motivated, even when things get tough.

The question then becomes, how can you develop mental toughness? And the answer is, by learning from the Navy Seals. Below you’ll find five Navy Seal mind-tricks that will make you mentally tough, so that you can get to work on your goals and keep going until you achieve them.

1. Up the Ante. Navy Seal Chad Williams explains that when you’re striving to achieve a goal, you should up the ante in order to make sure that you persist until you succeed. That is, ask yourself the following:

“What’s at stake?”

The more that’s at stake, the more likely you are to persevere. That is, the higher the ante, the more mental toughness you’ll be able to conjure up.

For example, let’s say that your goal is to run a 10K. Now suppose that you gave your sister $50 and told her not to give it back to you unless you completed a 10K. It’s very likely that you’ll quit before achieving your goal.

Why? Because training to run a 10K takes a lot of hard work, and $50 is a small stake. But what if you tell yourself that what’s at stake is the following:

  • By training to run a 10K, I’ll lose 25 pounds. I’ll be healthier, it will be easier to move around, and I’ll look better.
  • If I succeed in running a 10K, I’ll be setting a great example for my kids.
  • Developing the self-discipline necessary to run a 10K will help me to achieve my other goals.

Now that’s there’s more at stake, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll persevere, right? In fact, what Williams does is trick himself into believing that everything is on the line. He tells himself that if he doesn’t succeed in achieving his goal, his family will be executed.

Of course, most people won’t want to go that far. However, you could tell yourself things like the following:

  • If I don’t run the 10K, I’ll be overweight and unhealthy for the rest of my life.
  • If I don’t run the 10K, my kids will never respect me again.
  • If I don’t run the 10K , I’ll never have the discipline to achieve any of my other life goals.

It may seem a bit drastic, but by tricking your mind into believing that there’s a lot at stake you’re more likely to persevere until you achieve your goal.

2. Bounce Back Quickly From the Unexpected. Several Navy Seals have written books about their training and how they learned to be mentally tough so that they could survive the life threatening situations that they’re thrown into on a regular basis.

A while back I was perusing one of these books and I came across several useful nuggets. One of the things the book stated was that a vital component of mental toughness is bouncing back quickly from the unexpected.

When Navy Seals are preparing to go on a mission, they’re briefed on the situation that they’ll be going into. That is, they’re told what they’ll be facing and what to expect. For example, if they have to rescue someone from a ship they’ll be given information such as the following:

  • They’ll be given the ship’s layout;
  • They’ll be told how many people are on board:
  • They’ll be briefed on the weapons those on board might be carrying;
  • They’ll be shown how to move around the ship without being detected;
  • They’ll be told where their target is located: and so on.

However, almost 100% of the time, things won’t go as planned. For example, once aboard the ship the Navy Seals may come across a wall where there isn’t supposed to be one. What does a Navy Seal do at this point? Well, they certainly don’t do the following:

  • Stop to analyze who’s to blame for not knowing that there was going to be a wall there.
  • Stop to complain: “Oh, that’s typical. They miss a wall!” or “How are we supposed to get this done now?”
  • Give up and go back.

If the Navy Seals were to do any of these things, they would almost certainly be killed. Therefore, what they do instead is to automatically include the wall in their calculations. More specifically, they do the following:

  • Immediately acknowledge and accept that there’s a wall there.
  • Adapt with composure.
  • Keep going.

If you want to be mentally tough, you have to learn how to bounce back quickly from the unexpected. Trick your mind into overriding it’s tendency to argue with what’s happening by telling yourself the following: “Acknowledge; Accept; Adapt; Act.”

3. Train For Mental Toughness by Visualizing. One of the things that the Navy Seals are taught during their training is to visualize themselves successfully completing any task that they’re assigned over and over again. By using visualization they’re training their mind for what is to come. They’re winning in their mind in order to win in the battlefield.

Whatever goal you’re trying to achieve, visualize yourself persevering, getting over obstacles, shutting out your inner critic, and ignoring naysayers.

If you “see” yourself overcoming these hurdles beforehand, when you actually come across them in real life your mind won’t have to decide at that moment what to do. It will already know to keep going, regardless of circumstances, because that’s what it’s been trained to do.

To increase your mental toughness once you’re working to achieve your goal, train your mind beforehand by visualizing.

4. Recite a Mantra. A while back I read a book  called Unleash the Warrior Within by former Navy Seal Richard Machowicz (Mack). When Mack was training to become a Navy Seal he was sent a photograph of a friend’s brother who was a Navy Seal. In the photograph, the friend’s brother and several other Navy Seals were getting ready to skydive out of a plane.

On the back of the photograph it said the following: “A man can only be beaten in two ways: if he gives up or he dies.” Mack turned that quote into the following mantra: “Not dead, can’t quit.”

He recited this mantra continuously during what remained of his training, and he credits it with helping him to succeed in becoming a Navy Seal. After all, it’s much easier to be mentally tough when your mind chatter is conducive to mental toughness.

Adopt the mental chatter of the mentally tough by constantly repeating Mack’s mantra or coming up with your own. Here are some ideas for mental toughness mantras:

  • I’ll do this or die trying.
  • Only I can get me to quit, and I won’t let me.
  • Quitting is not an option.

When someone tries to get you to quit, or the voice in your head turns negative, recite your mantra. Trick your brain into thinking that the only option is to keep going by reciting your mental toughness mantra, over and over again.

5. Focus On What’s Right In Front of You. Most of us have very large goals. This may include goals such as the following:

  • Starting a successful business;
  • Traveling around the world;
  • Completing an Iron Man; and so on.

When a goal is very large, it’s often difficult to stay motivated and mentally tough from the time in which you take the first step to achieve the goal, until you cross the finish line.

As Navy Seal combat veteran Brent Gleeson explains, the way you trick your mind to keep going when the finish line is far off in the distance is to divide your goal into tiny tasks. Then, just focus on the task that’s right in front of you.

For a Navy Seal this could mean just focusing on running until they cross the bridge a couple of miles away; then running until they get to the top of the hill; then running until they cross the river; and so on.

For you it could mean the following:

  • Writing the next post that you’re going to publish on your blog;
  • Creating one five-minute video for your online course;
  • Making five cold calls to sale prospects; or
  • Completing a 10K bike ride.

Trick your mind into staying mentally tough by breaking your big goals into tiny tasks, and then focusing on the task that’s right in front of you. After all, it’s hard to get your mind to accept that it has to stay mentally tough for a year, but you can trick it into thinking that it only has to stay mentally tough for the next hour.

Conclusion

One of the key ingredients to getting what you want from life is mental toughness. Apply the five mind-tricks above and you’ll develop the mental toughness that you’ll need to achieve your goals. Live your best life by making yourself mentally tough.

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random acts of kindness
Being kind has a strong positive impact on people’s happiness.

In “The Healing Power of Doing Good”, Allan Luks reports that there’s a phenomenon called the helper’s high, which is described as a feeling of warmth and increased energy, as well as a feeling of euphoria, that people feel when they’re being kind to others.

In addition, a 2005 study from Hebrew University in Israel found a link between kindness and the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain.

Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., is a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and co-author of the book, “Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving”. He has the following to say about helping others:

“All the great spiritual traditions and the field of positive psychology are emphatic on this point — that the best way to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, jealousy [and so on] is to do unto others in a positive way.”

He adds that there are studies that show that when people act with generosity and compassion, there’s a positive effect on their health and well-being. Post explains that evolution may have primed us to feel good from giving because groups that had a large number of people who were altruistic toward others were more likely to survive than groups that did not.

There are several other studies that show that being kind to others makes us happier. One such study was conducted a couple of years ago by the University of British Columbia. Students at the university were given an amount of money ranging from $5.00 to $20.00. They were given the following instructions:

  • Some of the students were told to spend the money on themselves.
  • Some of the students were told to spend the money on others.

At the end of the day, the students who had spent the money on others–whether giving the money to a charity or buying a gift for someone else–were subjectively happier than those who had spent the money on themselves.

In yet another study, researchers scanned the brains of volunteers as they were asked to think about a scenario involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves. The results showed that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, this activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex.

All of the above suggests that altruism is not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges, but rather is basic to the brain, hard-wired, and pleasurable.

So, since doing good for others is conducive to happiness, how can you do more of it? Perform random acts of kindness.

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., is one of the leaders in the field of positive psychology and the author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. In her book she incorporates strategies and exercises to help the reader increase their levels of happiness.

One of these strategies is to take the challenge to perform five acts of kindness, one day a week. I recommend that you take her up on the challenge. If you do so, below you’ll find 42 random acts of kindness ideas to help you get started.

42 Random Acts of Kindness Ideas

1. Plant flowers in a public, neglected corner.

2. Help someone going through difficult financial times to go home for the holidays. Investigate the rules of your airline’s frequent flyer programs –some programs allow a ticket that you purchase with your miles to be used by anyone.

3. Leave some treats for your garbage collectors. Collecting garbage is a difficult and important job, but garbage collectors are often taken for granted. If someone deserves a random act of kindness, I think it’s them.

4. Fill a basket with everything a new-born baby needs and drop it off at a nearby hospital for a woman of low income who just gave birth.

5. Leave the exact change for a soda in the change slot of a vending machine.

6. Take a box of donuts to your local firehouse or police station.

7. Put money in someone else’s parking meter if their time is about to expire.

8. Forgive someone a debt that they owe you if it becomes obvious that they can’t pay it.

9. Pay it forward with books. When you’re done reading a great book, leave it in a public place for someone else to find. Add a note saying something like the following: “This book belongs to whoever finds it. When you’re done reading it, pass it on.”

10. Over-tip a waiter or give the pizza delivery guy a really large tip.

11. Drop coins on the sidewalk for someone else to find.

12. Leave a tip in a street musician’s jar.

13. Visit a nursing home and help brighten the day of an elderly person who doesn’t get many visitors.

14. Send a soldier a care package.

15. Help an elderly neighbor with their yard, whether it’s raking the leaves or mowing their lawn.

16. When you’re done shoveling the snow off of your driveway, shovel your neighbor’s driveway. Here’s a sweet story that came out in the news this year of six teenagers who did this for their whole neighborhood.

17. Buy a prepaid phone card and give it to someone who needs it.

18. Prepare a meal for a friend, co-worker, or neighbor who’s sick.

19. Let someone who appears to be in a hurry cut ahead of you in line.

20. Buy a pack of Girl Scout cookies.

21. Help out at a soup kitchen.

22. Offer busy parents to babysit their kids so they can have some alone time.

23. Buy five extra cans of soup or vegetables at the store and drop them off at a local food bank.

24. Donate craft supplies for second graders at a school in need.

25. Purchase a few umbrellas and ponchos and keep them in your car. On a rainy day, find someone who needs them.

26. Send someone who’s feeling down a box of sunshine: fill it with yellow things. This can be yellow candy, lemon cake mix, a yellow mug with a smiley face on it, smiley face stickers, yellow slippers, a great book wrapped in yellow, and so on.

27. Send a friend an old photo of the two of you together and include a note recalling that time.

28. Cheer up a friend who needs it. Take them out to lunch and listen to them. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to lend a sympathetic ear.

29. Give your spare laptop or desktop computer to an elderly person who you know is home-bound. Teach them to use the Internet.

30. Drop kindness bombs: leave small scraps of paper with positive messages on them in library books.

31. Purchase a couple of extra bags of dog food and drop them off at a local animal shelter — because dogs are also in need of some random kindness.

32. Do a chore for someone else in your family — take out the garbage, make dinner, wash the car, and so on.

33. Help victim’s of domestic violence — go to the women’s shelter closest to your home and drop off hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, razors, deodorant, toothbrushes and paste, tampons and pads, diapers, and wipes.

34. Bake cookies for your postman/postwoman.

35. Invite someone who’s alone to have dinner with your family for the holidays.

36. Let another car merge in front of you, or stop to let a pedestrian cross the street.

37. Give a kid a sincere compliment and encourage them to be the best that they can be.

38. If someone close to you is going through a hard time, ask them: “What do you need?” or “How can I help?”

39. If you’re fortunate enough to have at least one grandparent who’s still alive, call them. Having grandparents is a gift.

40. Write a letter to each of your siblings letting them know how much they mean to you and all the reasons why you appreciate them.

41. If someone new moves to your neighborhood, stop by and welcome them.

42. If a friend is going on vacation, offer to feed their pets and water their plants.

Conclusion

Will you take the challenge to perform 5 random acts of kindness a day, one day a week? If so, I hope that you found the42 ideas above helpful for your challenge. Live your best life by being kind to others.

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