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Andrew, Week 2: Movement in the Right Direction

Self-motivation examples

Here’s Andrew’s week 2 check-in (see “Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“).

My total inches is the same as last week but the measurements are changing a bit for each body part.

As of 3 days ago [before his weekly “cheat day” on which people who use this system need to eat a lot of high-calorie foods that temporarily make weight spike–LR], I had lost 3 lbs, 2.5 of which came off that 2nd week.  I only lost .5 the first week.

I am expecting great results this week and I am going to step up running and hit the pool (cool water draw heat out which burns cals!).

I am very far from 20 lbs my man but the pursuit is still hot!

Andrew isn’t currently on target to reach his goal of losing 20 pounds in 31 days, but having lost 2.5 pounds this past week, he’s much closer now than he was, and 2.5 pounds lost healthily is a big weight loss success by practically any measure.

His first week may have been affected by some eating habits he changed for week two, specifically cutting out significant amounts of of corn (which is often thought of as a vegetable, but which is actually a sweet grain) and drinking grapefruit juice on cheat days only. Tim Ferriss, the author of the Slow Carb Diet that Andrew’s following, recommends grapefruit juice on cheat days to help process carbohydrates more effectively–but on non-cheat days it’s not an allowed food, as it contains a lot of fructose, which interferes with the physiological processes the 6 days a week of proteins (including legumes at each meal) and vegetables are supposed to create.

In terms of motivation, Andrew’s clearly still pushing for a major success, and the results of his second week  suggest that he was right to persist but look for things he could improve after a disappointing first week.

Here’s a further update from Andrew, the following day:

Day 15 of 31:  Weigh in??  198.8.  That’s 1 lb less than yesterday and seems normal that it is still 1 lb elevated above my low weight recorded.  When I checked the weight on the day of my last cheat day, the day after cheat day and two days after, I had an elevated weight and then it tumbled off again quickly starting day 2 of the new week i.e. Tuesday.  Let’s see what week 3 brings now.

I swam 500 meters today and I’ll run a few miles tonight before dinner or before bed.  I will swim 1000 on Wednesday and 1500 on Friday.  I will keep my running miles at 3 miles or less and work some sprints into the routine on Saturday morning before my cheat day begins anew.

I notice that my stomach does not tell me I am hungry until almost 2 full days after cheat day has ended.  I think it takes my body that long to work out the garbage food and to coordinate itself again with the vitamins on day 1 of the new week and after the vitamin rest day after binge day.

For those who have chimed in to help me, I should begin to see a good amount of weight loss for the rest of this week 3 and then for week 4.

Cheers.

Photo by maxintosh

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Andrew, Week 1: Damn the Torpedoes; Full Speed Ahead

Self-motivation examples


Last week I got a chance to talk to Andrew (“Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“) about his determination to use Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet approach to weight loss to try to lose 20 pounds in 31 days. Ferriss’ approach has been very promising among people I know who have tried it, and the beginning of a new fitness process is often a honeymoon period, when the unaccustomed extra energy from more exercise, loss of water weight, etc. can much of the time provide a lot of encouragement.

Unfortunately, it appears Andrew isn’t going to be given a honeymoon period. He reports:

Well, the 1st week is over.  The results are far from impressive but maybe this week is the “basing” process for things to come in weeks 2-4.

I have lost .5 inches from my total inches (TI) measurements and I included the neck, shoulders, waist at navel, waist at largest area south of navel (butt), and the biceps, forearms, thighs and calves of both sides of the body.  The .5 inch drop in neck could be a mis-measurement so we’ll see next week.

The weight loss has not been anything special yet.  I began at 200.8 and I am now at 200.6.  Listen, this pales in comparison to what is written in his book!

My adherence to the food staples has been perfect, including the binge day regimen.  Sometimes I am hungry at the next meal and sometimes I do not care to eat.  I like the food I am eating so there is zero challenge to avoid other foods.

I can only assume my portion size is too large, but that, according to Ferriss’s book, should not be the case.

What changes am I going to make for week 2?

Here are the things to change:

  • Add cold showers each morning, icing at night while watching tv with my wife and boy and using ice baths on the weekend
  • As we are talking about calories, I may taper them back just slightly so I am at least hungry at the next meal
  • Exercise 3-4 times each week as I simply did it a couple of times this past week
  • Introduce cardio 3-4 times each week to enhance my metabolism

Final thoughts: I do feel great and I do not know if this is because of the vitamin regimen, the lack of “whites” to which Ferriss refers in his book, or a combination of both.

I’d like to imagine that there’s either a solution to this mystery or that Andrew will find his results drastically improve themselves over the coming week. For example, it could be that he’s getting a lot more salt in his diet and that therefore he’s retaining water and seeming heavier than he is–but who’s to know? Stay tuned, and next week we’ll find out whether this is a fluke or a trend.

Photo by MATEUS_27:24&25

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Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days

Self-motivation examples

A runner (not Andrew, obviously) in a lava field

Andrew, a reader of this site, is setting out on a daring project: he wants to lose 20 pounds of body fat, healthily, in 31 days.

If someone had described this plan to me a couple of months ago, I would have said it couldn’t be done. However, there’s a crazy but possibly brilliant guy named Tim Ferriss who’s written a book called The Four Hour Body, and in it he outlines his findings over the course of years and years of energetic research and extreme self-experimentation. Ferriss presents evidence that, assuming it’s accurate (and I have no reason to think it isn’t) would mean that Andrew’s project is entirely doable. I won’t go into Ferriss’s ideas in detail right now because I’m testing some of them out myself and want to speak from personal experience (and in addition I have concerns about some of Ferriss’ basic philosophies), but Andrew is going all-out. He’s going to do everything in his power to lose 20 pounds of bodyfat in 31 days, and he wants everyone to know about it. Accordingly, I asked him if I could post about it here. Andrew said “Let’s do it.”

I’ll be checking in with Andrew each week and posting his responses here. If he succeeds with even a large fraction of his goal, I’d call that a roaring success.

Andrew, what’s your motivation for such a radical change? And what do you think your biggest obstacles will be?

Andrew replied:

Complex: I want to feel my physical best so that I can fully participate in the outdoor and athletic life like I used to 10 years ago (I am 34 right now).  Carrying the extra weight around is probably killing my heart, knees, back and other organs, not to mentioned my mental and psychological states each day.  I suppose some of this is pure vanity as well as most people want to look good.  I could give a rip about looking like this person or that person, but humans have a healthy look to them and an unhealthy look to them and let’s be honest, I must fall into the latter category.  Although I must say I “carry the extra pounds pretty well”, I am not a picture of health right now and that really disturbs me.  I am also married and have a 3 year old boy so I honestly believe married couples owe it to each other to look good for as long as they can and my wife is hot so I need to bring more to the proverbial table!  When she and I met, I was in the midst of running up and down volcanoes, playing in monster ocean waves, eating well and living a very active lifestyle in her country of El Salvador.  As for my son, it’s critical to me that he pay testimony to a healthy life and not just lip service that we pay him at the dinner table each night.  Clearly, my goal is to personally push him in the athletic realm of the world as well as the intellectual dimension and me doing this while 20 lbs is hypocritical as I have no reason to be out of shape (just excuses).  I do have some personal fitness goals that revolved around distance running (I used to be a runner), cycling (I think I rode out of my mother), swimming (I am a newcomer to the sport) and to being a body weight exercise animal.  Lean and mean is the goal.

Simple: I want to feel amazing each day.

Obstacles: I suppose I am the obstacle.  If any laziness or regimen violations occur it will be because of me, plain and simple.  Barring injury, sickness or some other kind of life emergency, nothing should get in my way, period.

I have purchased the supplies needed i.e. vitamins and food and I have taken the body measurements outlined in his book, except for that I added my neck as well.

In the spirit of Ferriss’s Princeton student challenge i.e. reaching someone you think is unreachable and seeking advice etc., I am going after the man himself, Tim Ferriss and I will provide him my daily regimen and ask him if it’s spot on or if he has added anything since the revision of the most recent book.  I will tell him I am being watch by at least 1500 eyes each week, along with my own social sphere, so the test is on!

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Instant Feedback: An Example

Strategies and goals

Back when I first started this site, I mentioned that a key inspiration for my beginning to study willpower was my sister, Su, who had demonstrated how effectively we can introduce changes of habit into our lives. Su is the fitness editor at Health magazine, and one of her recent posts on the Health Web site (“The Easy Way to Up Your Daily Steps (and Why That Matters)”) provides some insight on how instant feedback can help drive change painlessly.

10,000 steps
Her particular topic is the amount of walking we do on a daily basis. You may have heard the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps a day for fitness and weight loss. Apparently the 10,000 steps idea started in Japan as an encouraging guideline without any particular research behind it, but later studies (like the one described in this paper by Drs. Catrine Tudor-Locke and  David R. Bassett, Jr.) confirm that it’s an excellent goal for most people.

So 10,000 steps is good. How many steps do we actually take in a day? Su cites research that finds in America, our average is only half the recommended level (“Pedometer-Measured Physical Activity and Health Behaviors in U.S. Adults,” David R. Bassett, Jr.). This lands the average American solidly in the “not particularly active” zone except for those people who do regular, more energetic exercise that doesn’t involve stepping.

Automatic improvement
Other studies Su mentions seem to show that simply wearing a pedometer tends to result in an increased number of daily steps. This is exactly what Su tried–and it worked. “Eleven months later, the bloom is still not off the rose,” she says, “and I now routinely average 10,000 steps per day (including my workouts) without thinking too much about it. That’s pretty amazing to me, given that when I started out I was averaging around 5,200 or so.”

The tip alone is useful, but there’s also a meaningful lesson we can derive from it: awareness tends to automatically drive improvement. That is, when we have instant feedback on what we’re doing, we tend to do better at it. Competition can help a person do better, in part because they can measure how well they’re doing by comparison to others; using feedback loops provides a reliable, consistent boost to motivation (see “How Feedback Loops Maintain Self-Motivation”); and immediate feedback is a key component of “flow,” a state of optimal productivity and enjoyment  (see “Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated” and “Some Steps for Getting into a State of Flow“).

So if you want to inspire yourself to do better at a particular task, find a way to add immediate feedback: wear a pedometer, watch yourself in the mirror, time yourself, keep a log of how many words you write per day, use meters and monitors, and in whatever other way you can, try to get instant feedback … because while we human beings may not always be the most industrious creatures on the planet, we do love a challenge.

Photo by Eneas

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Meditation Mistakes

The human mind

You could make a good argument based on research that meditation is one of the best things we can do for physical health, mental and emotional well-being, and general happiness. Meditation focuses attention, relieves stress, increases the ability to cope with problems (including chronic pain), improves sleep, and provides a welcome reality check.

Popular, but not popular enough
So with that in mind, it’s a little surprising that so few people meditate regularly. According to this handy page from the National Institutes of Health citing a 2007 U.S. government survey (“Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007“), only 9.4% of adult respondents had meditated at all in the last 12 months–and many of those 9.4% surely don’t meditate regularly. On the one hand, this is a huge number: for instance, based on that figure it seems likely that the great majority of U.S. residents, whether or not they’re aware of it, know someone who meditates at least every once in a while. On the other hand, meditation seems to benefit virtually anyone who gives it a good try, so the fact that so few Americans do meditate regularly is disappointing.

Some ideas as to why people don’t meditate
I imagine one major reason many people don’t meditate is that it still comes across as being foreign or New Agey, creating a barrier for people who aren’t comfortable with those labels. About those of us who have at least tried it, I began to realize recently when reading one woman’s account of her meditation experiences that many of us just don’t feel like we’re good at it.

That’s certainly been true of me sometimes. I’ll start meditating, and then I’ll have a thought about something, interrupting the meditation. Rather than letting the thought go, I sometimes tell myself to stop having thoughts, then chastise myself for getting into a mental conversation about thinking, then rebuke myself for chastising myself, then realize that the rebuke is a thought and tell myself to stop having thoughts. (I’m not even exaggerating.) While meditating, a person can easily feel distracted, taken by surprise by unexpected feelings or realizations, uncomfortable, unsure, or silly.

Why meditation problems are not a problem
The freeing thing to realize–or at least it’s a real help to me–is that there’s no need to be perfect at meditating for it to be helpful. It’s also likely that everyone else who learns to meditate has many of the same problems to one degree or another. Certainly, a monk who has been meditating hours per day for decades is probably going to be a lot better at the practice than you or I, but there’s no reason to believe such people didn’t originally have many of the same meditation issues that crop up for me or you, or that these issues completely prevent us from experiencing the benefits of meditation. Even poor meditation has a lot of good effects.

For more information on meditation, you may be interested in other articles on the subject on this site like “Strengthen Willpower Through Meditation” and “15-Minute Online Guided Meditation from Kelly McGonigal.”

Photo by JS North

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Tired? Try Getting Some Exercise

Uncategorized

When we’re feeling tired, run down, fatigued, or drained, exercise often seems unappealing. Feeling tired seems like a valid reason to avoid exercise. After all, if it’s an effort just to drag yourself from the car inside to the couch, there’s surely not enough extra energy to take a brisk walk, go swimming, or hit the gym–right?

But you probably picked up from the way I asked that this isn’t right, that how much energy we feel at a given moment isn’t really a reliable indicator of how much energy we could have in other circumstances. Certainly the exhaustion you feel after running a marathon means your body is tapped out, but at the end of a long day or in the middle of a lazy morning, feeling tired very often is only an indicator that our bodies haven’t received a signal that much energy is needed for the moment. Exercise can send just that kind of signal.

According to Tom Rath and Jim Harter in their book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, “A comprehensive analysis of more than 70 trials found that exercising is much more effective at eliminating fatigue than prescription drugs used for this purpose” (emphasis theirs). Exercise cranks up metabolism, helping to consume fat, build muscle, and create short-term and long-term energy.

In my own experience, this ability of exercise to make me feel more energized when tired came as a surprise. As I began to gain competency in Taekwondo over the last few years and was able to participated in advanced classes, I began going four to six hours a week. In order to keep that schedule up, many of the evenings I planned to go to Taekwondo turned out to be evenings when I felt dead tired. I tried going anyway, and to my surprise, my exhaustion almost always lifted by about ten minutes into the first class of the evening, and unless I was doing a very strenuous workout, I kept feeling energetic even after class.

Photo by Jean-Christophe Dichant

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Two Years Without Coffee: How to Resist Temptation

Self-motivation examples

A little over a year ago I posted “Going a Year Without Coffee,” in which I talk about how my physiology seems to encounter a lot more trouble with caffeine than most people even though I really enjoy coffee. So while I had largely steered away from coffee for some time, it wasn’t until two years ago that I stopped drinking it at all (and stopped having chocolate, tea, and other sources of caffeine along with it).

And while I’m sure I’ll have coffee again from time to time in the future, last week marked two years without, and I thought it might be worth sharing the tactics I use to steer clear, because they’re the same kind of tactics a person can use to avoid other kinds of temptation.

Changing What We Desire
The ideal thing would be to simply not want whatever it is we’re trying to avoid. Surprisingly, this turns out to be a practical approach. Many of us are used to thinking of our desires as being out of our control, that if we’re being drawn to some french fries or to someone who’s a bad influence or to an irresponsible drink, we have the choice of fighting or giving in (or often, both). Yet there’s a different, much more powerful choice available to us: using thinking to redirect our desires.

The Wrong Kind of Attention
When I start thinking about having a cup of coffee, I’m generally thinking about one of two things: how enjoyable the coffee itself is or how I would like to feel more energy. In both cases, my conscious mental processes are directed toward things that will make the idea of having coffee more appealing. On reflection, it seems obvious that if I’m thinking about how much I like the taste of coffee or how energetic I might feel if I had some that I’d be much more likely to actually have some.

It’s easy to imagine that everything we know about a choice feeds into how we make that choice, but in reality, the things we consciously focus on play a much bigger role than everything else, which is one reason we might know exactly the same things from one day to the next but choose to work hard or eat smart the first day yet procrastinate or eat junk the second.

Thinking That Makes Good Choices More Appealing
So my usual habit when I start thinking about a cup of coffee is to jot down a few thoughts about what will happen if I do have some. One of the first things I usually think of is the grinding, day-long headache I’ll get sooner or later from the caffeine. While this isn’t my body’s only negative reaction to the stuff, and while it’s always delayed at least a couple of days, it’s a miserable time.

Not surprisingly, the more I think “coffee=terrible, day-long headache,” the less appealing that cup of coffee gets. This effect builds as I remember that while coffee gives me energy, it also makes it easier to feel jumpy or anxious. Having energy isn’t much good if I’m not in a good enough mood to use it well. As I carefully think over what the real results of my actions will be, the temptation looks progressively more shabby and unappealing.

Having a Little Time Makes All the Difference
The problem with this approach is that it takes time and attention. However, it doesn’t take a lot of time and attention, and if we have enough time and attention to be tempted by something, we probably have enough time and attention to reflect on what will happen if we let ourselves be sucked in by that temptation. It only takes a few minutes, and while it works best if you can write or talk about the things that will make you less attracted to that choice, even just careful thought can bring you there. The worst thing is to be tied up so thoroughly with something else that it’s difficult or unworkable to focus on good choices for a few minutes instead, although planning can help get us through these times (see “How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower“).

Ultimately, not making a bad choice is easiest if we help ourselves dislike that choice. Focusing on the reasons the choice is bad in the first place help change our perspective so that we stop wanting things we don’t really want for more than momentary pleasure (see “The difference between pleasure and happiness“). To put it another way, the best way to resist temptation is to let ourselves be tempted instead by the things that will truly make us happy.

Photo by Beatriz AG

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Tobias Buckell Writing Motivation Interview, Part II: Handling Serious Health Problems

Interviews

Tobias Buckell is the author of numerous short stories and novelettes (many appearing in his collection Tides from the New Worlds); the “caribbean steampunk” novel Crystal Rain and its successors Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose; and the New York Times bestselling Halo novel The Cole Protocol. He is also a well-known blogger, a past Writers of the Future winner, and a fellow member of the Codex writers’ group. Knowing both about his many successes and about the surprising number of difficulties he’s overcome, I asked to interview him about his writing and his motivation through hard times. This is part two of that three-part interview.

 Back in 2008, I was surprised and worried to hear that you’d had a heart attack–while not even 30, I think–due to a congenital condition. Did you have writing plans that were derailed through that period? What effects did the interruption have on your attitude toward your work? And what kinds of things did you do to get back on track: did everything fall more or less easily back into the way it was, or was it more effortful than that?

I actually didn’t have a heart attack, we just discovered that I had a congenital defect with my heart. But the events were certainly as dramatic as a heart attack, and the ER doctor ended up assuming much the same. It turns out I likely have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The quick and dirty is that under duress, my heart fails to fire correctly. I’d been doing some home remodeling, and went to bed exhausted. I woke up four hours later with my pulse still racing madly and having trouble catching my breath. Ended up in a cardiac specialty ward for a week and after they looked at my insides they declared my arteries clean and my heart strong, but that I’d either had pericarditis and the HCM together added up to a dramatic event, or I had just pericarditis, or I had an HCM episode. It’s a somewhat inexact diagnosis, but the best they could offer me. Since my grandfather had HCM, and my mother has it, and they saw very faint signs of the possibility I had it, it’s a good bet I have it!

I was very derailed. I went down for the count in November 2008. And after the event, got a pulmonary embolism (either from lying in the hospital for a week or from the heart cath or something that gave me blood clots) that put me back into the hospital a few days later again for another week. Recovering from both left me exhausted, I didn’t get much done throughout December, January, and February. Between the medical bills and having hardly any energy to work for three months, the financial fallout was really tough.

There were two issues that made it hard to get back on track. One was that some of the medicine I was on really affected me as far as energy. I had maybe two ‘golden hours’ of ability in the day where I was able to work at capacity, down from ten. I really had to plan my entire day around that. And because I only had two hours, I basically had to let a lot of stuff just go. My least paying clients, or freelance gigs, or potential jobs. I just had to let them go and focus on the best paying ones to get through the first half of 2009.

And that meant I got very little writing done, and had to make my peace with it. I wrote a few short stories throughout the year, and worked on the books I wanted to write as best I could. But my highest paying clients were freelance gigs, and I had over ten thousand dollars of deductibles (don’t get sick at the end of a calendar year, right? I had to pay deductibles for two different years at the start of 2009) and then outside bills to pay, plus I’d lost three months of work as I focused on just recovering. It was a pretty rough time.

On top of that, my heart is more sensitive to stress, both physical and emotional, now. So in December, January, and February, I made numerous trips to the ER for chest pain due to the after effects of the pulmonary embolism and events where my heart would go into overdrive. I was also dealing with enormous amounts of depression. I consider myself a pretty physical guy. I like to workout and jog. That was taken from me. I’d been making really good money in 2008 freelancing, and I was struggling to stay afloat. That stress, of course, didn’t help.

But I just kept my head down, tried to pay off bills as I could. I wrote as I could. My wife had twins that April, which, for a month or two, sucked up a great deal of time as we went through the initial newborn phase. But once we fell into a schedule with the twins, and I slowly got better, and inched ahead, I turned more and more toward the writing again. I built up a buffer of cash so that in October, almost a year after the event, I was able to devote most of my day to writing fiction once more, and have been since then.

A number of interesting things have come out of that whole experience. Wouldn’t want to do it again, though!

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7 Kinds of Dysfunctional Eating

States of mind

In an ideal world, we would all eat exactly the things that our bodies needed in exactly the right amounts, and those things would be incredibly delicious to us. Unfortunately, of course, many of us don’t live in that world. It’s not uncommon to come up with any number of reasons to eat that have little to do with what our bodies need–and surprisingly enough, often little to do with even enjoying our food.

But if we become more aware of why we’re eating when we’re eating dysfunctionally (those of us who eat dysfunctionally sometimes), then our options improve, and it becomes easier to make choices that will increase our happiness and health. This is a way of practicing mindfulness: noticing patterns in ourselves that, once seen and understood a little, can be changed.

These patterns are useful to notice not just for eating more healthily, but also for taking more pleasure in what we do eat. Many of these patterns contribute to eating food that is meant to be pleasurable in a way that prevents it from providing any enjoyment–and what good is that?

  1. Compensation eating: Eating as a consolation prize because something went wrong. Some examples are eating something we usually like because something we ate earlier was disappointing, or eating when something goes wrong (“I can’t go to the concert, but at least I can eat this huge bowl of ice cream.”)
  2. Add-on eating: Continuing eating during a meal or snack even when we’ve had as much as our body needs at the moment. One of the reasons add-on eating happens is that it takes our bodies about 20 minutes to feel full even when we’ve eaten a substantial meal. Another reason is that eating something sweet starts a cycle that creates a craving for something else sweet.
  3. Automatic eating: Eating because something is in front of us, not because we’re enjoying it a lot or because it’s something we need. Automatic eating is a good reason not to have conversations at the snack table at parties and not to open a bag of chips when sitting down to a movie: you look up after half an hour and realize you’ve eaten twice your body weight in junk food without really noticing or enjoying it.
  4. Bounty eating: Eating because there is so much there to eat. College students (for example) often run into this problem at any event that offers free food, and sometimes it can occur as a result of having just stocked the cupboards to bursting or from being at an event where a huge amount of food has been put out.
  5. Social eating: It’s not uncommon to eat in order to appease someone, to appear polite, to fit in, because everyone else is doing it, or to have something to do with our hands.
  6. Supposed-to-be-delicious eating: Eating a favorite or very attractive-looking food not due to actually being hungry for it, but on the general idea that it’s desirable food and that therefore we should be enjoying it. Yet sometimes foods we like just aren’t what we need or even want at the moment.
  7. “I just can’t resist” eating: Telling ourselves that although we wouldn’t be best served to eat a particular thing, we “just can’t resist.” This is an example of “all-or-nothing thinking”, a broken idea. In fact, there are almost always options.

Readers: have any patterns to add?

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18 Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Habits

Author and fellow Codex member Elaine Isaak posed this question:

So as I was tossing and turning last  night, it occured to me that the one area where I’m not sure I *can* effectively apply my willpower is in getting a good night’s sleep.  I can’t WILL myself to sleep the way I might will myself to get up on time to start writing or to go to the gym.  I wondered if you have come across any research that tackles this, or have any tools to suggest?

I have to agree with Elaine on not being able to will ourselves to sleep by sheer determination, but fortunately I do know of a number of ways to get to sleep and to sleep better, based on research. Understanding that serious problems with insomnia are worth seeing a doctor about and that these recommendations are not professional medical or psychological advice … here they are:

Long-Term Habits

1. Plan your schedule so that you can get to sleep at a decent hour and still be able to wake up if you want to. If there are things you need to do before going to bed, do them earlier in the evening to make sure they don’t push your bedtime back.

2. Figure out how much sleep you actually need by keeping track of how much sleep you’re getting each day and whether that turned out to be enough. This may change over time, or under different circumstances (such as in stressful periods or with more or less exercise).

3. Get on a steady schedule with your sleeping hours. Staying up late on weekends or going to bed at different times every night, for instance, can sometims interfere with your body’s attempts to establish a natural sleep schedule.

4. You may need to make your bed an environment you associate mainly with sleeping (and, if appropriate, sex). Take activities like reading, using a laptop computer, or watching TV out of bed if your bed doesn’t feel like a place that naturally relaxes you.

5. On mornings when you don’t have to get up right away, if any, don’t sleep in for long periods, as this may tend to muck with your ability to sleep that night. More sleep isn’t always better.

6. Take steps to make sure you have the physical comfort you need, to the best of your ability: a firm, comfortable mattress; good ventilation; a comfortable temperature; etc. For me, one of the most relaxing features of my bedroom in summer is a fan pointed at the bed. You may also find it more comfortable to use a non-illuminated bedroom clock, although this is admittedly inconvenient if you are up in the middle of the night and want to know what time it is.

Daily Habits

7. Watch out for caffeine and consider cutting it out for a little while if you’re having sleep problems. Remember that in addition to regular coffee, most sodas, black/green/white tea, and chocolate contain caffeine, and that even decaf coffee and decaf tea contain some caffeine–just a reduced amount. Other stimulants to be careful of include ginseng and nicotine.

8. Exercise during the day! Be active! Regular exercise contributes to very good sleep.

9. Watch out for alcohol: while it can help you fall asleep more quickly, it also can cause sleep problems. According to MayoClinic.com, “it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.”

10. Don’t eat or drink a lot late in the evening. Either can cause physical discomfort that keeps you up at night or that can interrupt an otherwise sound sleep.

Before bed

11. Stretch, either doing yoga or basic stretching techniques. Stretching will release tension and improve blood flow.

12. Before bed, steer clear of things that might stir you up, like watching television, reading a suspenseful novel, or taking on stressful tasks. Relaxing activities will help settle you down so that you can sleep more easily. These can even include things like picking up and cleaning around the house to set things in order, or gathering things you’ll need the next day. The relative mindlessness of these tasks, the mild physical activity, and the way this prevents you from having to worry about getting things done in the morning are all conducive to good sleep.

13. Consider meditation, for instance body scan meditation, in which you focus your attention on each part of your body in turn and allow it to relax. Meditation can help still mental chatter and create a serene state of mind.

14. Ask a romantic partner, family member, or friend to give you a massage in the evening. This is an excellent means to rope someone into giving you a free massage, so don’t miss out.

In the moment

15. If you find yourself kept up by specific worries or general anxiety, try idea repair, journaling, or talking things out with someone who cares about how you’re doing.

16. Soft earplugs are great if you’re having trouble with noise. There’s a picture of the kind I like in this post.

17. If you’re obsessing about making yourself sleep, you may want to get out of bed, go sit on the couch, and read a book or listen to music or watch a movie that you’ve already seen, turned down low. These kinds of activities can engage your attention in a more relaxed way that may allow you to fall asleep more easily. Just make sure to have a comfortable couch.

18. In bed, listen to low music or a relaxation CD. Like the tactics mentioned in the previous item, this can help relax you when your mind is overstimulated.

Photo by babblingdweeb

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