Avoid Giving Up and Burning Out by Incremental Change

I had a conversation at dinner tonight where a friend of a friend mentioned her effort on a physical training program. Unfortunately, the attempt seemed to have come to an end after 12 days. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Haven’t we all heard this somewhere before? Maybe because it’s happening all around us. Perhaps you are one of them.

This is the exact same thing when we hear about someone’s new year resolution or someone’s birthday resolution or someone’s after-doctor-visit resolution. Somehow these certain events would provide people this sudden burst of energy and motivation. Then overnight, they transform into fanatics in exercising and gym. Amazing. But these effort usually ends in desertion and is completely forgotten after a few days, a few weeks, or at most a few months. All that effort wasted, sadly.

What went wrong? People burn out quickly whenever they abruptly change their entire routine and lifestyle in order to contribute to such total dedicaion. Let’s say your work suddenly requires you to work 100 hours per week when you usually work 40. I’m sure you will burn out quite quickly. Suddenly making yourself exercise couple hours everyday of the week when you don’t normally exercise is no difference. Despite feeling good for yourself at the beginning, such abrupt change puts so much stress, both physical and mental, on you that will easily lead to giving up.

How to avoid? First, you must understand that your goal is to achieve long-term, sustaining change. You may as well not waste your time if you don’t see it this way. You will need to implement incremental change over time, by doing it one step after another. You cannot learn to sprint without learning the proper way to breath and run first. You cannot lift 100 lbs before you can lift 25, 50, 75… lbs first. So, if you never run on daily basis, maybe start running 15 minutes at a comfortable pace. Then 30 minutes, 45 minutes, with gradual increase in speed. Find a suitable pace for yourself.

However, in order to improve, it is essential that you must push yourself a little over the limit each time. Run just a little longer and faster, lift just a little heavier, despite the diffuculty, despite the pain. Move outside your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable. In the end, it’s all worth it because you want to change, to improve, which is why you are doing it in the first place.

So far I have mostly focus on the health aspect of incremental change. However, the same princple can be applied in personal development and personal finance. If you spend $2000 in order to eat delicious food each month and then you force yourself to start eating fast food or only salads for $200 a month, the likelihood of you keeping up is extremely low. Worse yet, you may rebound and start spending more than $2000 later to make up for it. Instead, you can slowly lessen the frequency of eating out, at expensive restaurants, to give yourself time to get used to the change. Eventually, you will end up spending $200 a month. Or you can start saving $50 each month, then $100 after awhile, then $200…

It is important to understand that the incremental change principle suggested here is a healthy way to create sustaining change, applicable in all areas of life. It is not the only way, but it is a healthy way. It is about making a conscious choice for every action and doing it one step at a time.

Based on the incremental change principle, I suggested to the friend, “How about slow it down and start training 2 to 3 times a week?” for which I received a blank stare on her face. I sure hope this post is a bit more well received.

Originally posted 2007-11-16 23:27:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

What is Stress, What it Does, How it Kills

After the last post, I find it fitting to talk some about stress.

What is Stress?

Taking the fifth meaning from dictionary.com, stress is the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another, meaning for us, environmental stress. This is comparable to how our ancestors have to worry about having shelter, finding food, and not getting eaten.

For the heck of it, let me first make a point using a bit of video game lingo.

Video Game Hero Burst Mode

Imagine our hero in a video game who has a burst mode. This burst mode makes him a few times more powerful than usual and not get stunned… however, his hitpoints gradually decreases in this mode. So, the idea is to use the burst mode only when he fights very strong enemy and otherwise absolutely necessary to not die. Definitely not always, because he’d die.

Human Burst Mode, aka Fight or Flight

Well, we have somewhat of such a mode… it’s been identified in science as “fight or flight”.

As the words suggest, when we are in “fight or flight” mode, our body is ready to either fight or flee from danger. Intuitively then, when we are in such a mode, because the body concerns only of survival, the last thing it wants to do is digesting food properly, peeing and pooping, breathing deeply and slowly, generating energy for us in non-detrimental manner, and lastly (for some most importantly), carrying out sexual activity. LOL

(description of the science behind these is further down)

Stress in Modern Days

Back in the days when our ancestors live in the wild, such a mode is imperative for survival, to be able to hunt for food or run away from saber tooth. It’s really an intelligent design and gift of nature.

I surmise some activities above that our bodies is not inclined to do when in “fight or flight” mode, which should inevitably makes us realize how stress is one factor that lead to many other issues that modern people face.

We, or rather most of us with a few exceptions, constantly render our bodies in this “fight or flight” mode.

With saber tooth out of the picture, the “danger” we are threatened with are things that we think we must do and that which put us under stress — paying bills, feeding the family, keeping everyone happy, making deadline at work, getting the next promotion, becoming famous and successful, attaining power, retirement, eating things that hopefully won’t kill us before retirement, saving the world and blah blah blah.

Additionally, we are currently living in a society that is driven by fear. If you disagree, I politely ask you to check the news.

Our Beautiful Mind is also a Curse

Beyond the environmental stress, there is one more factor that hits it home to have stress cause us so much grief. Our mind.

For because we are humans and we are capable of thinking. This is another gift of nature that can also become a curse by misuse. We think about past and future. We think to create the perception of what is.

Things that we think we need to make us normal.
Things that we think will lead us to a “bad” future.
Things that we think as truth by expectations and conditioning.

We abuse the mind and apply thinking everywhere. Then ultimately, our attachment to these thoughts as real causes stress to multiply by ten-folds. Buddha is not lying when he said, “Attachment leads to suffering.” Well, it certainly does in how it leads to stress in our life!

Positive Stress

And let us not forget, when we seek drama, indulgence, and excitement, it is more or less the same because positive stress is stress to the body too. And there is science behind it that our bodies react similar to positive and negative stress.

Anyways, when it’s all said and done, we are constantly putting our bodies in this “fight or flight” mode. When we are not stressing out on negative things, we are seeking positive stress. In other words, stress kills is really another way of saying, we are killing ourselves, albeit slowly.

The Chemistry and the Science

I am no scientist but this is a summary of the many things I self-studied on this topic that hopefully can be easily understood.

Mainly, there are two hormones generated when we are in “fight or flight” modes — adrenaline and cortisol — both produced by the adrenal gland. Both of them are geared toward getting our body ready and have enough quick energy to fight or run away. I will only focus just these 2 and effects due to having them for prolonged period of time.

Adrenaline
Real name is Epinephrine. Adrenaline is a hormone that boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose (think of them like gas to cars) to the brain and skeletal muscles. That means if you have a lot of it in your bloodstream constantly, these are the effects:

– Not have adequate supply of oxygen and glucose to other organs in your body, which includes organs in the digestive system, parts of your nervous system (that’s why probably you are less sensitive), sexual organs (sorry, no sex when adrenalized)
– Because the oxygen and glucose supplied to the brain and muscles in mass quantity, they will be very stimulated, which will likely cause insomnia and muscle restlessness.
– Behaviorally, our ancestors work off the adrenaline in body by fighting or running away… but we modern people involve no such kind of physical exertion for that purpose. So either we leave the adrenaline in the body doing all the stuff above, or we find ourselves overeating, crazy shopping, etc.

Cortisol
Cortisol is what we call the “stress hormone”. Cortisol does many things. A few key effects are:

– Increase in Blood Sugar (hyperglycemia) — Cortisol being a counter to insulin and probably also because it increases glycogen synthesis by liver (as source of energy for muscles).
– Weaker bones — probably because cortisol induces loss of collagen (monitored in rats), which are present in the skin, bone, cartilage, tendon, and teeth.
– Long-term exposure to cortisol results in damage to cells in the hippocampus, aka, your long term memory.

Both Hormones
– Interfere with thyroid function and affect the T-cells and thus interfere with our immune system, which is why we are easier to get sick when stressed out.
– Decrease in muscle tissue because they cause our bodies to burn carbs and lean muscle (protein) in order to obtain quick energy to fight or run. Because burning fat to get calories is slower. Hence, not a good idea to exercise and weight train as a stressed person.

There you have it. A quick run through about stress. Not short, but it could have been longer!

Of course, I’m no “expert” and these are my intuition and understanding from self-study. So, do your own study. If you are really interested, besides searching for stress/adrenaline/cortisol you should also look into “parasympathetic” and “sympathetic” systems.

My thanks to these resources:
http://www.thebodysoulconnection.com/EducationCenter/fight.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epinephrine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cortisol
http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm
http://www.greenerchiro.com/Stress%20&%20Cortisol.htm

Originally posted 2009-10-29 00:03:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Bad Timing Versus Priorities

Bad timing.
They want the right timing to take action.
They wait and wait and wait.
Meanwhile, they stand still and do nothing.
Maybe they talk about it.
Maybe they think about it.
But otherwise, they do nothing.
Seconds go by, minutes go by, hours, days, weeks, months go by…
They wait and wait and get more and more complacent.
All the while, still telling themselves it’s not the right time yet.
Years passed by and they seem to have forgotten what exactly was that they wanted to do.
Then maybe one day, they realize suddenly as if struck by lightning…
“Oh, I haven’t accomplish anything…”
Or maybe they wont’ realize…
Too comfortable to notice, too comfortable to care.
Or maybe they are too comfortable to make changes anymore…
They continue to wait for the right timing.
There is always tomorrow.
There is always more time.

Aren’t we all familiar with the scenario above looking at the people around us?
Sadly, that’s the majority of the population.
Maybe you are one of them.

I’m 24 now.
Maybe it’s safe for me to say that?
Maybe I can just sit back and relax and do nothing for awhile?

I chose the difference.

I encountered the death of a near-age friend earlier this year. One day I was still chatting with him and then couple days later he’s gone. No sign. No prologue. He just left. I was speechless when I got the news. There is no words to describe.

I took that to the heart. It is not that I am afraid of death. It is actually about facing death. Chinese people avoid talking about death, and I hate it. Death lets me find and identify the things are meaningful to me, the things that I genuinely want to do. Those things are a part of my character. Without them, I am not the person I am. They are my priorities. If I don’t act in accord to my set of priorities each moment, I may not live to the next day to do them. It is precisely facing death that lets us to be not of it because we will start to do the things that define us in the best of our ability everyday. Things like caring for my family, being kind and compassionate to people, always trying to learn, becoming financially stable and independent, playing piano, trainingly myself mentally and physically, doing what I can for the world (You can laugh at me but I’m serious and sincere about it)… I have no regret if I am to die. It is doing with the end in mind. I also believe this helps to put us at ease and let us find that inner peace.

I do still relax and have fun. Sometimes I get tired and slack off, but I remain conscious and mindful of my priorities. Your priorities are your character, and there is no bad timing to act in your character. I am not suggesting to act rashly and bully ahead because there are moments, quite often actually, that require patience depending on situation. It is about consistently making the choice to move forward and contribute to those priorities, despite hectic schedule, despite fatigue, despite difficulty, despite bad timing. It is about making choice proactively to move forward with regards to what you truly want to do and the person you want to be, while staring death straight in the eyes.

So I urge you…
If you are still waiting for the right time…
Stop talking.
Stop thinking.
Stop reading.
Stop finding excuses.
Do something already.

Originally posted 2007-11-30 22:39:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Wisdom and Knowledge

I asked the question, “What could be wisdom?” last post. Indeed, it is quite elusive. FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com mentioned common sense, and how her parents and grandparents have them.

So, old people come to mind when wisdom is mentioned?
Then, is wisdom simply old age?

Though, that still does not answer what wisdom is. Old age is also not it because there are many unwise old people. It’s just that they are more likely to be wiser than their young counterpart.

I find in eastern culture (not the eastern culture now), the people have more emphasis to wisdom due to the influence of Buddhism and Taoism. There were a bunch of people who were in search of being enlightened. Just look at the existing methodologies and techniques — meditation, yoga, reciting mantra, zazen, physical isolation, etc. The ones who become enlightened thus become masters and seem to have answers to everything in life. But some of them get there in a day. Some of them take several decades. Some died before.

Now, let me quote FB’s one sentence, “Wisdom is also common sense worked in with logic/rationality. Wisdom seems to be this part of us that works along side our rational mind.”

So wisdom is not so much information. Nor a skill that could be learned through discipline. But as said when I talked about eastern culture, wisdom seems to somehow needs invoking. Yet, it cannot be taught. What is it?

I can offer no definite answer either :P It seems to be the knowing of the known and unknown. Thus, it’s our full being that knows that we know what knowledge we know (logical mind) and ALSO knows that which is indescribable through the logical mind.

Wisdom then becomes the knowing, the understanding, the realization of our full being.

Thus, if knowledge, learned through intelligence of the logical mind, are puzzle pieces, wisdom is the one to put them together for the “optimal” result in life.

Taking that further, I would even say that if knowledge is the car, the wisdom is the driver. Thus, given 500 horsepower of knowledge, there needs to be a driver who can handle a 500 HP car. When a driver, who is only capable of driving 100-200 HP (normal) car, drives 500 HP of knowledge, we WILL have tragedy. That is definite.

Let me give another example, if you give the famous katana Mursame to a child to wield, it is with certainty that he’s going to lose a limp or two if not kill himself. So someone with great swordsmanship should wield it. But also, if fallen in the wrong hands, many people could be killed.

What about someone with a ton of wisdom but almost no knowledge? I don’t know, can we still call this person wise?

Jokes aside… Too much knowledge, not enough wisdom. I observe that is the state of affair our world is in.

A balanced person, a balanced world is when wisdom and knowledge are in proportion.

Wisdom being the knowing of our full being. When we accept and embrace our full being (if you let yourself into what it means), perhaps you can find wisdom there.

I think until then, we have to live in a world driven by knowledge, or rather, people who are drunk on knowledge that will continue to be more and more chaotic until we become wiser. In this sense, for future as humanity as a whole, economy and politics become “small problems” until we resolve this. This making philosophy more important than ever.

If knowledge is power and with power, comes responsibility, what does that tell us now?

The responsibility is not just how we are going to use the power (knowledge). More importantly, the responsibility is also knowing when to use the power and when NOT to use the power.

Of course, drunk people would not listen to this kind of crap.

Originally posted 2009-11-05 00:37:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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