Archive for the ‘Self-Discipline’ Category

January 24th, 2012 No Comments

Using Facebook, Youtube and Twitter Too Much? Create Healthy Habits for Your Free Time

twitter cat

The future will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely.

-C. K. Brightbill

What do the Internet (Facebook / Youtube / Twitter), television, newspapers, film and radio have in common? These are all forms of mass media. If you spend your free time passively consuming mass media, it is likely to be disappointing in the long-run. Mass media consumption requires very little psychological energy, and rarely helps you grow. Its purpose is not to make you happy. It is (usually) to make someone else money. And by passively consuming the same information as everyone else, you are likely to think like everyone else.

As technology continues to improve, it is becoming easier than ever for you to spend your free time passively, living vicariously through the creations of others. An example would be getting home from work and deciding to watch television or Youtube videos instead of creating something of your own. You are stagnating during your free time when you could be growing. This is okay occasionally, as you need time to relax and recover after work. The problem is when it becomes a daily habit (e.g. watching television for 4-5 hours per day).

Create Healthy Habits For Your Free Time: Mass Media Rehab

By using your free time to create and grow, instead of passively consuming, you will find yourself living a more meaningful life.

Create your own content: You wouldn’t be reading this blog post if I hadn’t started LifeEvolver.Com four years ago. With the Internet, it’s easier than ever to create your own content and get instant feedback. For example, you could start your own a blog or create videos on Youtube today. Immediate feedback from the online community could help you improve and refine your talent. This type of instant feedback wasn’t available to artists 50 years ago. And don’t forget to reach out to friends and family for feedback as well.

Examples: Write your own book, create your own movie, start your own blog, create a video on Youtube

Become an active contributor: You can continue to use mass media, but become an active contributor. The Internet is the easiest form of mass media to participate in. Did you know that only 1-2% of website visitors actually contribute content? This is the case for Wikipedia and most other websites (Benkler 2007). If you have a valuable opinion, or are an expert on a subject, why not share it with others? You might be surprised how much feedback you start getting, how many interesting people you meet along the way, and how good it feels to contribute to a greater cause. You can help support online communities by content, contributing feedback, comments, and ratings to websites.

Examples: Create an article on Wikipedia, comment on a blog post, rate a Youtube video, edit a spelling error on a Wikipedia article

Get away from mass media: As with your work, it’s healthy to create a daily ritual of disconnecting from your home computer and television. There are plenty of leisure activities which do not require the passive consumption of mass media.

Examples: Play a sport, learn to play an instrument, create art, create music, exercise, join an improvisation group

Create goals for how you use your free time: Choose goals that are intrinsically rewarding. This means that you enjoy the process of reaching your goals. Also make sure that your goals are challenging, have clear objectives, a clear timeline and performance criteria.

Example: Let’s say that you decide to create a leisure time goal of reading one book per week. Choose books that you enjoy reading, and you will enjoy the process of reaching this goal. Your goal would be “I will read one book per week of at least 200 pages for the next three months, starting on April 1st and finishing on June 30th.”

Creating Healthy Work and Leisure Habits

Escape the Rat RaceFor more tips on creating healthy work and leisure / free time habits, ready my mini-book Escape the Rat Race:

Escape the Rat Race: Change Your Mind or Take the Emergency Exit
How can you escape the rat race? Should you change your job? Or can you keep it, while making smaller changes to your daily habits and ways of thinking? This mini-book explores both options, and teaches you when each is appropriate for escaping the rat race.

Creating Alternate Sources of Income During Your Free Time

Are you interested in creating alternate sources of income during your free time? Check out my other mini-book Modern Moonlighting:

Modern Moonlighting
Modern Moonlighting: Keep Your Day Job, Make Extra Money, Do What You Love
How can you create alternative sources of income while keeping your day job? This mini-book teaches you how to start moonlighting and gain more independence from your job.

Sources:

  • Benkler, Y. (2007). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 1ST Edition. Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

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October 7th, 2011 No Comments

Common Sense Buddhism: A Compelling Life Philosophy for Everyone

Big smiling buddha

Only by stripping away irrelevant cultural and social values will we see the full spectrum of what this wisdom is in its naked form and what it has to offer our modern cultures.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Whether you are a religious Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, or non-religious Atheist, Agnostic, or Freethinker, the original teachings of Buddhism provide a compelling life philosophy. The teachings are not in conflict with your beliefs or non-beliefs, with a few exceptions. There are several supernatural, cultural, and religious aspects of Buddhism can make it hard for everyone to stomach. Fortunately, recent Buddhist authors have broken apart these cultural and non-scientific aspects of Buddhism. What remains is a common sense life philosophy.

How Buddhism Started

Buddhism started in present day Nepal with the birth of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was a prince who gave up his position in search of the truth. He was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around him and resolved to find a key to human happiness. The story of the Buddha can be found in detail on Wikipedia. Over time, Buddhism spread to Central, East, and Southeast Asia. Buddhism evolved into three main traditions- Theravada or Southern tradition, Mahayana or Northern tradition and Vajrayana or Tibetan tradition. Different traditions adapted to each culture and give varying emphasis to different aspects of the teaching and practices.

Is Buddhism A Religion or Life Philosophy?

It can be either, depending on the individual. The original teachings of the Buddha seem to be more of a life philosophy or way of life. But over time, as Buddhism spread across Asia, it evolved to each culture, and sometimes became more of a religion.

Why Buddhism is A Good Fit For Everyone

Buddhism is Agnostic. It does not require a belief in a god, making it attractive for both religious and non-religious, the believer and non-believer. The Buddha explained that he was not a god, and that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking enlightenment. While it is common for people in Asia pray to the Buddha, many consider this a corruption of the original teachings of the Buddha.

Common Sense Buddhism: The Original Teachings of the Buddha

The original teachings and basic philosophy of the Buddha (The Four Noble Truths) provide a common sense life philosophy for everyone. They don’t require a “leap of faith” or belief in the supernatural. The Four Noble Truths are taught in all three traditions of Buddhism:

1. The nature of suffering

Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires

It is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases

It is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.

4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the eightfold path

The Noble eightfold path (summarized) is being moral through what we say, do and our livelihood, focusing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, by developing compassion for others and by developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths.

Sources: Wikipedia, Buddhist Studies

According to the Buddha, these four noble truths can be tested and proven by anyone. During his lifetime, the Buddha was a strong proponent of skepticism and critical thinking:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
-Buddha

Taking the Nonscientific Aspects Out of Buddhism

While The Four Noble Truths do not conflict with science, there are two Buddhist beliefs that do: Karma and Rebirth. In addition, there are some New Age philosophies we need to watch out for as they can confuse us by linking their philosophies with Buddhism.

Karma: The Buddhist belief that every action brings about a result in this life or in a future life. Similar to the saying “What goes around comes around.” There is no way to scientifically prove karma, and so skeptics must discard this aspect of Buddhism as a life philosophy.

Stephen T. Asma PhD offers an interesting re-interpretation of karma in his book:

But the only really compelling interpretation of karma-one that doesn’t conflict with science-is the radical reinterpretation that asks us to think about karma as a psychological fact rather than a metaphysical one. For example, it is possible to say that one’s early lack of mental control and discipline results in a later batch of suffering-perhaps I never disciplined my cravings for fast food as a young man, and now I’m an obese older man who lives like a slave to French-fries. Or my younger taste for drama and negative attention has resulted in a later relationship pattern wherein I only try to date married women. This more naturalized version of karma is the only one that seems reasonably defensible.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Rebirth: The Buddhist belief that upon death, a stream of consciousness flows from the deceased into a new person. Again, this (and the afterlife in general) cannot be proved, so cannot be accepted by a skeptic. During his lifetime, the Buddha himself even encouraged skepticism of the afterlife and karma:

“Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself.”
-Buddha, Kalama Sutta

In his book, Stephen Batchelor makes a good point about the power of believing in death’s finality:

It made me realize that belief in rebirth was a denial of death. And by removing death’s finality, you deprive it of its greatest power to affect your life here and now.
-Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

New Age “Magical Thinking” to Look Out For: Popular New Age philosophies are often linked with Buddhism, which can be confusing for those seeking the truth. As a wrote about previously in my post How Does the Law of Attraction Explain The Holocaust?, recent “magical thinking” presented in movies such as The Secret (2007) is harmful, and sometimes promotes a blame-the-victim mentality.

Stephen T. Asma PhD explains the problem with this modern day “magical thinking” that has become a part of popular culture:

… The more recent The Da Vinci Code phenomenon (2003), or the New Age variations such as The Celestine Prophecy (1993), The Secret (2007) and so on. Most of these worldviews share a common conviction that “positive thinking” and/or secret knowledge can, by itself, rearrange the universe to your liking. I believe The Celestine Prophecy and other such magical philosophies are popular for one reason: they indulge all our infantile desires to control the world. This is Freud’s famous critique of magical thinking, and I find myself in agreement. We all have these infantile desires to control the world through magical means… It is juvenile to expect the world to bend to my will.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Stephen provides a second example of quantum mysticism, which has also become part of popular culture:

The purveyors of quantum mysticism include Fritjof Capra (the author of The Tao of Physics), Deepak Chopra (author of Quantum Healing), and the makers of the film What the Bleep Do We Know! (Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment). One of the things they are all trying to sell is the idea that there’s some deep, ancient agreement on the other side of the planet that we should reject our rationality. And the second major plank in the quantum mysticism campaign is that the conscious mind can and does make reality.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

What Remains: Common Sense Buddhism

Having read several books on Buddhism, I came across “common sense” themes and words of wisdom that expanded on The Four Noble Truths. None of these themes require a belief in karma or rebirth. If you are interested in learning more about Buddhism, any of the books quoted below are a good place to start. My favorites were Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind
and Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey.

The Nature of Suffering (Noble Truth 1)

There are many types of suffering, but there’s one that’s worth contemplating above all others: nothing lasts. Life is short, the clock never stops ticking, and the time of your death will be a surprise.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Suffering’s Origin: Cravings and Attachments (Noble Truth 2)

When you start to study your mind, you begin to see how mind works. You discover the principle of cause and effect; you see that certain actions produce suffering and others produce happiness. Once you make that discovery, you understand that by working with suffering’s causes, you can overcome suffering itself. You also begin to see, in the contents of mind, a clearer picture of your own psychological profile. That is, you begin to see the patterns of thought and feeling that repeat over and over. You see how predictable you are in your relationships and interactions with the world. You come to see, too, how ephemeral the contents of mind are. At a certain point, you begin to glimpse the total space of mind, the brilliant awareness that is the source of your fleeting thoughts and emotions. This is your first look at mind’s true nature; it’s a milestone on your path and an experience of personal freedom.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Whatever our desires may be, getting the object of our desire is not the same thing as contentment, which comes from within. In the end, we’ll never find complete contentment, a perfect sense of peace, if our mind isn’t content and at peace.
Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

No matter how much freedom we have, there’s still a sense of struggle. We always seem to be fighting for more freedom or a different kind of freedom, and therefore the suffering is endless.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Activities themselves, whether they be helping old ladies across the street or selling your body for money, are neither good nor bad. They are inherently value-neutral, they just are. The activity becomes “bad” only if you become attached to it, only if you find yourself “needing” it and obsessing about it and not being able to be content without it. Even helping old ladies across the street can become “bad” if you become sanctimoniously righteous about it and stake out cross-walks to get your pious “fix.” So, too, sex for money is problematic when either the sex or the money becomes an addiction, but not before that. This means that there is no commandment list of absolutely wrong things in Buddhism, and while sexual desire and drugs and greed might trap you in this world of suffering, so might rigid religiosity and moral righteousness.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

If I simply cannot help myself from gawking at a stunning model on the street, then I have overturned a division of labor inside myself. I have become the servant of my desire, rather than being the master of my desire. I am being led, rather than leading.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

We cling to our bodies because we are all craving for immortality. In doing so, we make the error of thinking that an inherently impermanent thing will last-a philosophical mistake in thinking. And we succumb to an unhealthy fantasy-a craving that we will live forever.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

…Without attachment, we can think clearly about whether we want to eat the cake, and if we decide to, we can eat it peacefully, tasting and enjoying every bite without craving for more or being dissatisfied because it isn’t as good as we expected.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Meditating on impermanence and seeing the transient nature of things helps us to let go of attachment and to set our priorities wisely. Imagining getting all the things we are attached to and then asking ourselves, “Now am I forever happy?” enables us to stop obsessing about the things and people we are attached to. As we let go of the attachment, our fear of not having or of losing these objects of attachment will naturally dissipate.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When we are attached to others, we don’t see them for who they are and thereby develop many expectations of them, thinking they should be like this and they should do that. Then, when they don’t live up to what we thought they were or should be, we feel hurt, disillusioned, and angry.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

The causes of our problems lie not in the external environment and those inhabiting it, but in our own mind. The disturbing attitudes and negative emotions, such as clinging attachment, anger, and ignorance are the real source of our unhappiness. Since these are based on misconceptions about the nature of reality, they can be removed from our mindstream.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Though a man conquer a thousand thousand men in battle, a greater conqueror still is he who conquers himself.
—Udanavarga

He whose mind is subdued and perfectly controlled is happy.
—Udanavarga

Death is not an event among other events, something that will just happen one day like anything else, but an ever-present possibility that quivers inside us each moment.
-Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Freedom From Suffering, Giving Up Craving (Noble Truth 3)

Freedom can happen swiftly. One moment, we’re bound by something, the sum total of our life—our concepts about who we are, our position in the world, the force and weight of our relationships to people and places; we’re caught in the fabric of all that. Then, at another moment, it’s gone. There is nothing obstructing us. We’re free to walk out the door. In fact, our prison dissolves around us, and there’s nothing to escape from. What has changed is our mind. The self that was caught, trapped, is freed the minute that the mind changes and perceives space instead of a prison. If there is no prison, then there can be no prisoner. In fact, there never was a prison except in our mind, in the concepts that became the brick and mortar of our confinement.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Compassion, Helping Others, Being Kind and Giving (Noble Truth 4)

The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is to avoid harming others and to help them as much as possible.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When you wake up in the morning, try to make your first thought, “Today, I don’t want to harm anyone. I’m going to help others as much as possible. May all my actions be directed toward the long-term goal of becoming a Buddha to benefit others.” After you get up, meditate for a while to get in touch with your inner calm, to learn about yourself, and to set a good motivation for the day.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

What is a true gift? One for which nothing is expected in return.
-Prasnottaramalika

If we consider ourselves part of the same organism of all sentient life, we will reach out to others as if they were us. That is the type of compassion we try to develop through practice.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Hear ye all this moral maxim, and having heard it keep it well: Whatsoever is displeasing to yourselves never do to another.
-Bstanhgyur

By abandoning negative actions, such as hurting others, and destructive motivations, such as anger, attachment, and closed-mindedness, we stop harming ourselves and others.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Meditation means habituating ourselves to constructive, realistic, and beneficial emotions and attitudes. It builds up good habits of the mind. Meditation is used to transform our thoughts and views so that they are more compassionate and correspond to reality.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Breaking Bad Habits (Noble Truth 4)

We are creatures of habit and need to put effort into pulling ourselves out of habitual judgments, emotional responses, and behaviors towards others. Each moment of our life is a new one with the opportunity to experiment and do things differently. Each time we meet someone we have an opportunity to connect, to give and exchange kindness.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

These are precisely the things from which we work to free ourselves on the Buddhist path: the habitual patterns that dominate our life and make it hard to see the awakened state of mind.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Handling Stress and Difficult People (Noble Truth 4)

Our stress is often due to not accepting the reality of a situation. We want it to be different or we want ourselves or others to be different. However, what is happening at the moment is what exists. Instead of rejecting the situation, which causes us more anxiety, we can accept it and work with it. Accepting whatever is happening isn’t being fatalistic; it’s being realistic. Having accepted the reality of the situation for what it presently is, we can still try to improve it in the future while remaining realistic about what is possible.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When we’re stopped at a light or stuck in traffic, we can look around and think, “All these people around me want to be happy and to avoid problems just as I do. Because we live in an interdependent society, I receive benefit from the different jobs these people do, even though I don’t know them personally.” It’s also very helpful to think like this when someone cuts us off!
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

I once saw Vietnamese monkihich Nhat Hanh, at a lecture, offer a helpful metaphor for handling difficult people. When you plant lettuce, he said, you don’t blame the lettuce if it doesn’t grow well. Instead, you look for reasons why it is not doing well. The plant may need more sun, or fertilizer, or water, or whatever. It would be odd to blame the lettuce. So, too, when people are hostile to you, you should try to understand what circumstances have led them to this unfortunate state.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Living in the Present (Noble Truth 4)

When we don’t pay attention, the conceptual world takes over our whole being. That’s a pretty sad thing. We can’t even enjoy a beautiful sunny day, watching leaves blowing in the wind. We have to label it all so that we live in a concept of sun, a concept of wind, and a concept of moving leaves. If we could leave it there, it wouldn’t be too bad, but that never happens. Then it’s “Oh yeah, it’s good to be here. It’s beautiful, but it would be better if the sun were shining from another angle.”
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

As the external world is reduced to a conceptual world, we not only lose a wholesome part of our being, we lose all the beautiful things in the natural world: forests, flowers, birds, lakes. Nothing can bring us any genuine experience. Then our emotions come into play, supercharging our thoughts with their energy; we find there are “good” things that bring “good” emotions, and there are “bad” things that bring “bad” emotions. When we live our life like this every day, it becomes very tiresome; we begin to feel a sense of exhaustion and heaviness. We may think that our exhaustion comes from our job or our family, but in many cases, it’s not the job or family itself—it’s our mind. What’s exhausting us is how we relate to our life conceptually and emotionally. We risk becoming so stuck in the realm of concepts that nothing we do feels fresh, inspired, or natural.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

For many of us, work is the time we spend waiting to live. But if you can sink down and be more present in your activity, then you will discover the subtle joys of quality labor and the oblique happiness that comes from accomplishing something with excellence.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

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December 20th, 2010 No Comments

5 Great Ideas for New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's Eve 2010 - Valzer
New Year’s Eve is a great time to reflect on your past year, and changes you would like to make for the coming year. As New Year’s resolutions are highly personal, I won’t be providing specific resolutions. Instead, here are five ideas for you to come up with your own New Year’s resolutions.

1. Focus More on Something You Love

Is there a hobby that you love to do and are passionate about, but have been neglecting? This year, make the change. When you’re doing what you love, you are in a more passionate state of mind, and always doing your best because you enjoy what you do. You’ll often find yourself in “the flow”, a state where you lose track of time as your focus is solely on your passion. You’ll be better able to handle obstacles that come into your path because you enjoy the day-to-day activity of doing what you love.

2. Quit Something That Isn’t Working

Remember the old advice, “Winners never quit, quitters never win”? It’s wrong. In fact, winners quit often- as entrepreneur and marketing guru Seth Godin explains, “to stick with something in an absence of further progress is a waste.” Reflect on your past year. Is there something that you have put a lot of time and energy into, but still don’t end up anywhere (ex. Dead-end job)? This upcoming year, consider creating a New Year’s resolution to quit something that isn’t working.

3. Spend More Time Living in the Present

Reflect on the most enjoyable moment of your past year. Did this moment involve thinking, or were you completely focused on an activity? Chances are, you were completely focused on an activity. When you become intensely conscious of the present moment, you create a gap in thinking, in which you are highly alert and aware. Make a resolution to spend more time in the present for this upcoming year.

4. Break a Bad Habit

Do you have bad habits and behaviors that have become an automatic part of your daily routine? Over the past year, maybe some of these have even become automatic. For example, you may often wake up in the morning thinking negative thoughts, which puts you in a bad mood each morning. Or maybe you’ve created a habit or smoking on all of your work breaks. For this upcoming year, make a resolution to break a bad habit.

5. Become Happier and Stay That Way

How can you be happier and sustain it next year? Hint: Getting a raise at work or winning the lottery won’t make you happier for the long-term, as you will adapt quickly to your new circumstances. Studies have found that recent lottery winners are temporarily happier, but soon after, they adjust and are no happier than others. If we are constantly adapting to positive change in our lives, then how can we sustain an increased level of happiness over the long-term? This upcoming year, make a New Year’s resolution to become happier and stay that way.

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September 5th, 2010 No Comments

Running Without Headphones

Running Without Headphones
On my last post about marathon training, a reader commented that I should start running without headphones. After all, during the NYC marathon, I wouldn’t be wearing them (most races have banned the use of headphones). There are also the safety concerns- with headphones on, it’s more difficult to hear cars, cyclists, and other runners. And if you look at elite runners, none of them wear headphones, as they need to pay close attention to their body and competition.

Initially, a few hesitations ran through my mind. What if I get bored? Am I relying on my music to keep me going? Especially on my long runs, music provides a good distraction. Or even worse- Am I using headphones as a form of protection and insulation from the outside world, in the same way that people use sunglasses to avoid eye contact? Will I feel like I’m running naked without them? Or maybe I’m just over-analyzing things…

In Central Park, a large number of the solo runners I see have headphones on. But the majority of runners in groups do not. Tonight, I gave this “running without headphones” thing a try for the first time since I started training for the NYC marathon. In reality, for most people, this would be a very small change. For me, it was significant. I’ve been putting in mile after mile every week, all with a track playing in the background. So what was it like?

Increased Awareness

In one word, my run felt more… Natural. I thought I would get bored without headphones. But I didn’t. I just started to notice lots of different things. I became less internally focused and more externally focused. Hearing the sounds of my inhale and exhale. Or the sounds of my footsteps as I propel myself forward. And the rhythm of my footsteps and breathing together.

I also heard the footsteps of other runners. I heard walkers, fragments of conversations in different languages, and a crowd cheering at a baseball game after a baseball hit a metal bat. I heard a baby crying, dogs barking, and rock music playing. I felt a sort of connectedness to the Central Park atmosphere that I never had with headphones on.

With this new external focus, I started to notice the people around me more, and sometimes felt more competitive around the other runners. When I have headphones on, if I am running behind someone at a similar pace, I will usually continue at my same pace. But without headphones, sometimes I feel the urge to pass them. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe listening to music distracts my competitive side.

All in all, the run had a more natural and increased-awareness feel to it. It was a better balance between internal and external focus. I will definitely be running without headphones more often. I can’t completely give up my tunes, but I’m willing to give them up part of the time for this increased awareness. Adding more variety and increasing my awareness while running will make for a better marathon training experience.

Update: 17 Miles Using The Off-On-Off Technique

On my 17 mile run today, I tested out wearing my headphones for only part of the run. For the first 20 minutes, I ran with my headphones turned off. This gave me adequate time for warming up. After this warmup, I ran with my headphones turned on (at a low volume) for one hour. This helped push me through the first half of my run. For the remainder of the time, I took my headphones off. This was a good variety. I was able to run with more awareness when I needed it most (warmup and second half through finish). I did notice that the last mile was a little more tough than usual without music. It was definitely more of a mental game without headphones. I ended up counting my strides to stay focused on finishing- normally I have music to distract me.

Update (3 weeks before marathon): No longer wearing headphones!

I have completely stopped wearing headphones when I run outdoors. I still wear them when I go to the gym. I am happy about this adjustment. It has given me more awareness and willpower… I no longer rely on music to get me through the last few miles. I just use the mantra “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

Do you wear headphones when you run?

What are your experiences running with or without headphones? Which do you prefer?

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August 30th, 2010 2 Comments

Solo Training for My First Marathon

World Class Athlete Program - WCAP - Best Of - United States Army - FMWRC

Hi everyone- Long time no see! I haven’t written a post on Life Evolver in quite a while (11/08), so my writing might be a little rusty. But I’m going to give this a try. I’d like to start posting more regularly here. To start back up, this post will cover my training for the NYC marathon (11/7/10).

What triggered my decision to run a marathon?

Last year, I ran my first half marathon in Santa Cruz, with a final time of just under 2 hours. Immediately after finishing the half marathon, I felt like I could still keep running. I told myself that adding 13.1 miles for the full marathon wouldn’t be that difficult. I didn’t think of it much after that. Fast forward to February of this year, when I moved from San Francisco to New York City. I started running a lot in Central Park, as I live a couple blocks away. Again, I started thinking about running a full marathon. Mostly, my interest in running a marathon seemed to stem from my enjoyment of running and need for a challenge.

I picked up the book Four Months to a Four-hour Marathon, which is a short, basic guide for training, including detailed weekly workout schedules. After reading this, it seemed very doable. I decided to start training for 4 months, with a race time goal in under 4 hours. I would need an average pace of 9:09 minutes per mile to meet this goal.

Choosing a Marathon and a Charity Organization to Run For

The marathon book I read suggested a smaller (less popular), flat-course race for a first-time marathoner. But being new to NYC, and always hearing about the NYC Marathon, I was determined to run in it, even though it is the world’s largest marathon. I looked for a charity to sponsor, which would guarantee my marathon entry, and give me a good cause to run for. I decided on the Children’s Tumor Foundation, whose mission is to find a cure for Neurofibramatosis (NF). NF is a genetic disorder usually diagnosed in childhood that causes tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body.

This is by far the largest charity fundraising activity I have ever been involved with. My goal is to raise $2,500. If I get 100 supporters to each give $25, I will meet this goal. So far I have raised $455 from friends/family/coworkers, so I am 18% toward my goal (thanks to everyone who has donated!). I have to reach this goal by October 20th in preparation for the November 7th marathon. If you would like to help out and support a great cause, simply make a donation. You can also read my last post for more details on the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

Marathon Training Solo

During my half marathon training last year, I had some friends I trained with once per week for long runs. This year, I am training completely solo. I feel like this suits my personality, and I enjoy the time alone when I am running. And although the long runs can get a little lonesome, I feel like they are good for me. Each long run I go on now, I am pushing my boundaries, running several miles longer than I ever did before. Doing this alone provides me with more self-knowledge. I am able to more accurately see my own limits as I push myself.

Running Form

While I was training for the half marathon last year, I injured my left knee. This injury carried on in to the half marathon, and made a portion of the run very painful. I was determined not to do this again during my marathon training.

Four weeks in to my marathon training, I noticed the same knee started feeling very tight, like it did before I injured it the previous year. I knew that my current running form was not working for me. At that point, I decided to get some help and met with a running instructor at The Balanced Runner in NYC. I have had two sessions with them so far, and noticed an incredible improvement in my running form. I finished a 15 mile long run yesterday, injury free, which was a great accomplishment for me.

Running Mantra

On the first week of my marathon training, I read the book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir about running and writing by Haruki Murakami. It’s a very good read- so good that I’m reading it a second time now. In one chapter, Murakami writes about mantras that long distance runners use to keep themselves going. One mantra stood out in particular- Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. When I several hours in to my long runs, and start to feel the pain, I repeat this mantra in my mind, and keep going.

Training Gear

Getting the right training gear has been a process of trial and error for me. I am hoping that this post will be of benefit to other people that have decided to train for a marathon.

Clothing: Since  I started training this summer, I wear running shirts and shorts that are sweat proof. As the weather starts to cool down, I will need to start wearing layers, especially on my long runs.

Shoes: I have been running with the Brooks Adrenaline Gts model shoe for the last few years. They were originally recommended to me by a professional at a running store. When I started training for the marathon, I purchased two pairs of these, and have been trading them off every day. This gives my each pair a rest. They are able to decompress and dry out for a day, and last longer this way. One month before the marathon, I will purchase and break in a third pair. My running instructor at The Balanced Runner recommends that I switch to a shoe with neutral support, so I plan to do that after I finish the NYC marathon.

Music Player: I use an Apple iPod nano with a wrist band. I find that the screen and extra space of the Nano better-serve long-distance running than my shuffle.

Headphones: I had problems with using headphones while running for quite a while. Sometimes they would fall out. Or they would get too sweaty and stop working. After checking Amazon.Com, I found Innovelis BudFits. These are little rubber adapters that you connect to your existing iPod headphones. The rubber adapters fit snugly on your ear. Your headphones hang upside down, being held by the rubber adapters. Since your headphones aren’t wedged deep into your ear, it feels better and allows your sweat to dry around your ear canal naturally. While the headphones take a few seconds longer to put on than normal earbuds, they never fall off and work great on long runs.

Music: When I first started training, I used my regular gym workout playlists. But with the amount of time that goes into marathon training, those soon got old. I also found out that the kind of music I listen to at the gym to pump me up didn’t really do the trick on my long runs. It just got old. So I went through my music library, and created a new playlist with more variety. I have rock, alternative, techno, rap, and reggae music on my current playlist. This way, when I am on a long three hour Saturday run, I have something to give me an extra boost of energy, and I don’ t tired of the tracks. I will probably add a few more playlists as well throughout my 4 month training plan.

Time/distance/pace tracker: Initially, I started tracking my runs with the iPhone RunTracker application. But the iPhone is really too bulky for long runs, and not convenient for long-distance running. So instead, I purchased the  Nike Ipod Sport Kit, to use with my Nano. It has been working out great for me, I really wish I had purchased it earlier. It allows me to track my running over time, and I can easily choose a goal (distance / time / pace), pick a playlist, and get started with my run. Since I switch out between two pairs of running shoes, I bought an easy-to-remove Nike sensor holder Shoe Pouch.

Chafing Prevention: When I did my first long run in my training, I came back home and noticed my skin was very sore / raw around my nipples. I researched this, and it is very common for men during long-distance running. Running for a long distance causes friction between your skin and shirt. Not so much for women, as they wear a sports bra. I purchased Bodyglide Anti Chafing Lubricant and no longer have this problem.

Water Bottle Holder: On my long runs, I started to get dehydrated unless I was lucky enough to be near a water fountain. My running book mentioned that I should be staying hydrated at least every three miles. I ended up buying the Ultimate Direction Access Waist Pack, and the first couple times I used it, I didn’t like it at all. I wore the pack around my waist, over my running shirt. Every few miles, it would start to slide up, and I’d have to readjust it. Finally, I tried wearing it under my shirt (duh!), with the waist band / buckle around the top part of my shorts. This has proven to be much more effective. I still have to readjust it, but not nearly as often.

Food for long runs: When I first started training, I used Power Gel packs to use on my long runs. But those are pretty expensive and don’t taste very good. More recently, I will cut up a banana, put it in a plastic bag, and carry it in the zipper compartment of my water bottle holder. Not only is this more affordable, but it tastes better, and it gives me more energy without upsetting my stomach.

Your Experiences with Running

What have your experiences been with running? Have you ever training for a long-distance or speed race? Do you have any running tips? Please post a comment below!

Creative Commons License photo credit: familymwr

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August 18th, 2010 No Comments

NYC Marathon, Fundraiser for the Children’s Tumor Foundation

I am raising money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation as a participant in the NYC Marathon, and I’m asking you to help by making a contribution to this very important cause. Each donation helps accelerate finding a cure for Neurofibromatosis, and brings hope to the patients and families who are in the front line of the battle against this disease.

Neurofibromatosis (NF) is a genetic disorder usually diagnosed in childhood that causes tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body. The NF endurance team is focused on raising awareness for this disease through running, biking, swimming or whatever it takes to pull together the ultimate team who will find a cure for NF.

Children's Tumor Foundation Fundraiser Marathon

You can learn more about my efforts and make a donation here. Please use this webpage to donate online quickly and securely. You will receive a confirmation by email of your payment and I will be notified as soon as you make your donation.

In preparation for the November 7th marathon, my fundraising goal needs to be met by October 20th, so make sure you visit my site before then.

On behalf of Children’s Tumor Foundation, thank you very much for your support. I really appreciate your generosity!

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September 20th, 2008 No Comments

3 Ways Memes Can **** You Up and Infect Your Mind

Arrr!
Internet meme LOLCat

The song played that is easiest to remember will be a hit. The politician that promises the most gets elected. The Youtube video which creates the strongest reaction in the least amount of time will become popular. What am I talking about? Memes.

Meme: Any idea or behavior that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, gestures, practices, fashions, habits, songs, and dances.

Memes spread through human culture similar to a contagious virus. As the meme is repeated and re-encoded in the minds of other individuals, it evolves. Memes that do the job with the least amount of energy will survive.

Meme evolution is not necessarily to our benefit

Memes have a life of their own, and the means by which they evolve is not necessarily in our best interest- the successful meme is copied and spread whether or not it’s in the interest of the meme creator. A good example of a successful meme is the evolution of projectile weapons, which started with arrows, then bolts, catapulted stones, cannonballs, explosive bombs, and nuclear bombs. The amount of destructive power has increased exponentially over time, but there is no evidence that a new weapon actually enhances the survival of the people who created it.

Memes can **** you up and infect your mind if you let them

Technology is helping memes evolve and spread at a more rapid pace than ever before. Successful memes are more easily copied, while unsuccessful memes are not copied. Due to technology, the modern day man is more vulnerable to being infected by memes. Here are 3 ways this happens:

1) Internet Memes

Dancing baby. The hamster dance. LOLcat. These are all examples of Internet memes. Are they a fun part of Internet culture, or a parasitical waste of your time? To answer this question, you must first ask yourself how much you value your time.

As your time is limited, it is important that you are using it to get what you want out of life, versus letting memes use your time to propagate themselves. If you could look back at your life, how memorable would your time spent on Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter, or this blog post be? When you follow Internet memes for hours, how much of that time is contributing to your well-being, versus parasitically draining your energy?

Musician and Internet sensation Tay Zonday (creator of Internet meme Chocolate Rain) sings about the time we spend on the Internet:

So every day I swear
I’m gonna go to bed at like eleven.
And all of a sudden its 4AM . . .
And I was just watching Youtube and
reading Wikipedia for five hours.
It’s like MAN . . . you ask me the
next day. I can’t even remember
what I was doin. Crazy.
-Tay Zonday

2) Television Memes

Sensationalism. Sitcoms. Soap operas. With television, memes can be transmitted almost instantaneously to people throughout the world. Generally, television makes viewers feel very relaxed, but also significantly less active, alert, mentally focused, satisfied, or creative compared with other ways of spending time.

Like a drug, television initially provides a positive experience, but research suggests that the longer one watches it in one setting, the worse one’s mood progressively gets. 90’s hip-hop group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy sing about this in “Television the Drug of the Nation”:

How do you feel after watching television? Was your time spent doing something rewarding, or wasted? Do you use television to get what you want out of it, or do television memes use you to propagate themselves?

3) Materialism Memes

Houses. Cars. Clothes. As man looks on his material possessions, he becomes deluded into thinking he’s a big deal- the objects become symbols for expansion of the self. It is easy for man to spend his whole life accumulating property without end just to feed his ego.

Each of us has needs for shelter, food, and clothing. But this doesn’t explain the houses of today, which represent more of the evolution of memes than to our personal well-being. Similarly, expensive clothing and restaurants are used to make an impression on the minds of other people, versus the simple needs of keeping us warm and replenishing our energy.

A powerful example of a materialism meme is the automobile. After first buying a car, you have positive feelings, such as freedom, power, and pride of ownership. The car becomes a symbol for the expansion of the self. Then the car ownership begins to drain your energy- you worry about payments, upkeep, insurance, accidents, and so on. But still, the meme continues to evolve and replicate, with new car models coming out each year for future owners.

A scene from the movie Fight Club discussing how “the things you own end up owning you”:

Do you use memes to get what you want, or do memes infect your mind and replicate themselves?

Do you use memes to get what you want and meet your personal goals? Or do you become a meme replicator, with hours of your time being wasted as the outcome? Internet, television, and materialism memes are really just the tip of the iceberg- memes can drain our energy in all areas of life. After capturing our attention, memes will continue reproducing themselves whether it is good for us or not. If we are to take control of our lives, we must get out of autopilot mode and use memes for our own ends, versus letting them parasitically drain our energy.

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