Thursday, January 29, 2015

Waking Up Before I Go-Go

I’ve been experimenting with waking up without an alarm clock for two weeks now. Well, almost. Technically, I’ve set the alarm clock to the last possible moment that I could afford to sleep in without dire consequences (e.g., getting to work late, missing morning appointments) as a safety net in case I pull a Rip Van Winkle in the mornings. The results so far have surprised and impressed me so far.

Except for one morning, I managed to wake up anywhere between 60 to 15 minutes before the safety net alarm rang. I woke up feeling energetic, optimistic, and excited about upcoming day’s adventures. These findings were pleasantly unexpected, and I feel committed to making the new habit stick.

For over three decades, I’ve followed a routine of setting my alarm clock to ring at a target time of when I think I should be waking up, which is usually very optimistic. Each morning would inevitably result in epic battle of will between myself and the two-headed monster of alarm and snooze button. At 6:15, the alarm rings, and I surrender to the snooze. At 6:25, the siren call of the alarm reprises, and I choose to snooze again. The tug-of-war continues until 6:45 or 6:55, when I give in to the unforgiving ten minute snooze interval and drag my tired ass out of bed. Either way I’ve wasted up to 40 minutes of quality sleep, or 40 minutes of productive morning time.

The alarm-less experiment made me aware that both quantity and quality are important for my sleeping habits. I noticed that with improved quality of sleep, I feel more energy to feed my weekday work and weekend activities. For the longest time, I thought that I needed 7.5 hours of sleep each night, but I didn’t factor in the quality part of the sleep equation. It didn’t help that I often went to bed with huge fear of not waking up in time—the added stress of waking up in the morning probably lowered my enjoyment of sleep.

Also adding rituals to my alarm-less experiment has made the sleep experiment more successful. I generally try to prepare for the upcoming day the evening before, with clothes laid out and set aside, coffee maker prepared for the morning, and my bags nearly packed. Less things to do in the morning means less frantic chaos. I try to be in bed by a certain time and fall asleep while reading a book or magazine. And in the morning, I take ten deep breaths before getting out of bed, and make my bed immediately. I make an effort to listen to a thought-provoking podcast and watch a TED video as part of the routine.

I have no deep knowledge of the body’s response to the circadian rhythm; I’m no chronobiologist. But I’m encouraged by a growing array of articles and talks on human energy management and productivity which make strong case for valuing quality sleep. Gretchen Rubin’s TEDx talk correlates sleep with increased happiness. Diligent sleep habits are characteristics of many successful people, according to a recent Inc. article, "Sleep Deprivation is a Productivity Killer.”

The idea of waking up without an alarm clock seems to be counterintuitive to my goals to be more active and quest-focused on weekends. How can I take advantage of my weekend mornings if I don’t set alarms? I’m banking on a theory that by becoming in tune with my circadian rhythm, I won’t fall to the decades-long pitfall of indulging in binge sleeping over the weekends—a decades-long pigeon of discontent which motivated me to plan adventures for every weekend this year. There will be situations where I’ll resort to using an alarm (e.g., rising early to catch a morning flight, managing sleep while traveling, and ensuring that I wake up very early for those running or cycling events which begin at butt-crack of dawn), but I expect those moments to be rare.

Perhaps waking up alarm-less in the morning is the keystone habit that I’ve been searching for. Only time will tell.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Leveling Up Media Consumption

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn

The quote from the late author and motivational speaker is often applied in context of workplace culture and social groups. I can relate to how accurate that the observation is: when I’m part of an amazing and transformative culture—and adding to the goodness—it’s exhilarating feeling an elevated sense of purpose. On the flip side, when I’m thrust in an environment where crab effect, schadenfreude, and toxicity define the cultural norms, it’s sometimes tempting to get sucked into that convention, which often leads to mental exhaustion at end of the day. Being a part of a great culture is like eating a delightfully healthy meal, whereas membership in a subpar environment is akin to snacking on unhealthy junk food.

But can “the average of the five people” concept apply to my information consumption as well? Would spending more time being exposed to media which dovetail into my goal of lifelong learning and less time with low- or non-value added sources result in greater satisfaction and/or enlightenment? I decided to take on an experiment to change my media consumption habits. It’s a work in progress so far, but the results seem promising.

I’ve decided to indulge less of low-value/low-reward (in my opinion) consumption. For years, my default go-to web surfing destination was mostly sports sites. I suspect that the mental energy needed to process mundane news about scores, rumors, speculations, and latest exploits of prima donna athletes were minimal compared to reading substantial essays on productivity blogs and thought leaders’ websites. Mindless web consumption can be useful when I need a very short distraction, but when brief indulgences extend into hours-long rabbit hole of low-value “Internet research,” it’s no different than initially deciding to eat a single stick of French fry and ultimately gorging on several orders of super-sized fries. It also didn’t help that I often indulged in clicking the sponsored links on those sports articles, which inevitably led to TMZ-esque gossip and sensationalist media sites.

I’ve started to add to my weekly goals to absorb more media that align with my learning and enlightenment goals, as well as expand my body of general knowledge. I’ve set a goal to watch a TED talk every day, and listen to at least three thoughtful podcasts a week. Watching mentally stimulating presentations fit more closely with my goals of becoming a better speaker (and an eventual TED talk presenter) than repeatedly viewing a replay of crushing football tackle (lesson learned: watching the same replay twenty times didn’t change the outcome, and it didn’t add value to my leisure time). Listening to productivity podcasts and interviews with extraordinary people align with my desire to lead a 10xer life. I’ve intentionally started to spend more time with magazines that I subscribe to (but don’t always read completely): reading a human interest article in New Yorker magazine would likely offer more value to me than reading ten different news articles on the latest controversy in the sporting or entertainment world.

I have many friends who immerse themselves with intelligent media as part of their habits. Some folks I know spend weekend mornings listening to National Public Radio. Others listen to podcasts, thoughtful news, or audio books while they commute. What I’m doing isn’t revolutionary—there are precedents and inspirations. I have nothing against mainstream media, but I want to increase my awareness about what I intentionally choose to consume. Being exposed to fluffy media is like eating a bucketful of heavily-buttered popcorn, while spending time around media which integrate with my greater interests is savoring a truly healthy and beneficial dish.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fear of Having Missed Out

The condition known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is widely talked about in popular culture. We sometime take action because we fear that inaction will result in lost opportunities.

There's one similar condition that I've struggled with: Fear of Having Missed Out. It's a combination of regret, envy, and hindsight. The inevitable question of "What if?" surfaces when I contemplate events where I experience FOHMO.

When I read about amazing adventures, accomplishments, and vision of others, FOHMO sometimes kicks in. I'm nearing my fifties, and sometimes I feel that my lifelong accomplishments are lilliputian compared to amazing thought leaders, artists, and people who inspire. Some of the FOHMO pangs are self-inflicted: the more I become interested in the works of these action heroes, it's easier to compare my output to those who have written several amazing books, given compelling TED talks, composed amazing music, galvanized communities, and made a dent in the universe.

Perhaps I've spent earlier lifetime in a state of having undefined purpose, having minimal drive, or allowing others to shape my vision and goals. Whenever I read interviews with interesting musicians in Keyboard or Electronic Musician magazines, I felt simultaneously interested and envious: learning how they got things done was inspiring, but I also felt, "Why can't it be me?" It didn't help that I failed to do the work and neglected to polish my craft. Thinking that great ideas that percorated in my head would inherently and naturally generate interest--without making a splash in the canvas--is not the road to success. It's hard to make a stand while sitting on my ass.

Witnessing, and being influenced by, the positive ethics of the younger generation has also flared the FOHMO. Encountering and working alongside passionate and driven people who refuse to believe in limitations provided a stark dissonance with what I believed to be how things should be done. Instead of striving to receive permission, these provocative change agents sought to make things happen: whereas I was conditioned not to rock the boat and obey the superiors, the folks who actually got shit done took more risks, flipped the middle finger to the old way of doing things, and questioned the establishment. They formed organizations to build infrastructure to provide African villages with clean water, helped create and spur social media, smashed the outdated notion of command-and-control in the corporate world (thank you Switch & Shift, Fast Company, Seth Godin, Hugh MacLeod, and many others), built a community for thousands of thought leaders and difference makers (much love to World Domination Summit), and spread their ideas to the masses.

So why do I still experience FOHMO at times? Perhaps becoming immersed with lifelong learning tribes, and sometimes crossing paths with these thought leaders (which is possible thanks to the powers of socal media), made it very tempting to compare apples to pomegranates. But it's time that I give myself credit for what I have accomplished already and the transformations that have taken place. I, too, have learned to reject the cynical masses and the doom crew. I've enthusiastically flipped the bird to the command-and-control culture that expects me to act sheeplike and seek permission before I create anything. I've started ignoring and stopped validating those who feel that being special is reserved for a chosen few. I've stopped being scared to fail. I helped curate communities and encourage dialogue at work and home. I'm a fucking unicorn and I can make amazing shit happen.


Instead of feeling envy and insignificant when I read about accomplishments of others in Portland Monthly, New York Times, Monocle, or other publications, I want to feel inspiration and motivation. Whenever I attend talks and presentations given by amazing thought leaders, I want to learn from them, and use their energy to fuel my drive towards one of my life goals: presenting a TEDx talk. I may still feel FOHMO periodically, but if I can redirect those feelings towards working on my craft (may it be writing, creating music, giving talks, being a rock star to rock stars, encouraging others to share stories with powerful presentations, cultivating culture in the workplace, or nurturing tribes), I see a powerful and compelling future--one without regrets--on my road to awesome.