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How Coffee Turned Me Into a Morning Person

Morning Person or Not?

I am not a morning person. Never have been. But that being said, I do some of my best work in the morning. Morning is when I’m my most alert and fresh, the time when I am the most productive and given that the majority of the business world works between 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m., I needed to be available to clients during these times.

Since the first of this year, I have written between 2000 – 2,500 words every day without fail, beginning at 7:45 a.m. every morning. But it wasn’t always this way.I used to find getting up early in the morning to be an unbearable, agonizing chore.

(Not)Getting Up in the Morning

Throughout the years, I have tried every trick in the book to force myself to get up in the morning. I’ve tried setting my alarm for 15 minutes earlier every day. I’ve tried keeping my alarm across the room so I had to physically get out of bed to turn it off. I’ve tried alarms that are so jarring that you shoot out of bed like a rocket the second it goes off. I’ve tried progressive alarms that bring you out of sleep slowly, gently and lazily. They all worked – but only for a short while. Then it was back to my normal routine. That is to say, turning off the alarm and jumping back into bed until my body (and not some stupid alarm) decided that it was time for me to get up.

Coffee was the Answer

In order to understand my solution, you first need to know that I love coffee and I admit that I am more than a tad bit fussy when it comes to my coffee. I don’t like weak coffee, shitty coffee, cheap coffee, cold coffee, old coffee, bitter coffee, stale coffee or coffee that has been sitting around in a pot for more than fifteen minutes. I’m not particularly fussy about most things, with coffee being the one exception. There’s nothing I look forward to more than my morning cup of java.

So How Does This All Fit In?

Awhile ago, I purchased a coffee pot with a timer. The idea is that the night before, you prepare the grounds, add the necessary water and set the timer for when you want the coffee to begin brewing the next morning. So I did it. I followed the instructions, plugged in the pot, set my alarm (it plays the sound of a waterfall along with gentle chimes, if you must know) and went to bed.

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting throughout the house. But moreover, I knew that if I didn’t get out of bed right then and there, the coffee would grow bitter from sitting in the pot and become (at least, according to me) undrinkable. Moreover, I didn’t have to sit around and wait for my coffee to finish brewing. It was done by the time my feet hit the floor.

A Combination of Tricks

So for the past several months, I have gotten out of bed immediately when my alarm goes off. Automating my morning coffee routine was the one trick I needed to turn myself into a morning person (as much as one can turn oneself into a morning person).

Now at the time I began this little experiment, I was sleeping until about 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. It’s important to note that I just didn’t set my alarm one day for 7:30 a.m. and simply bound out of bed with a squeal of delight.

No, what I did was to combine my coffee trick with setting my alarm fifteen minutes earlier each week. For example, week 1 the alarm (and my coffee timer) was set for 10:15; week 2: 10:00; week 3: 9:45 and so on. And if you fee the need to spend an extra week or two without changing your alarm time, by all means do so. I think I spent three weeks at 9:00 before I moved on to 8:45.

But I Don’t Like Coffee

I admit, this trick is aimed at coffee connoisseurs who simply can’t bear the thought of allowing a pot of expensive coffee go to waste. If you don’t drink coffee, try the experiment with your favorite tea. Or perhaps, schedule something you really enjoy doing early first thing in the morning. But whatever it is, it needs to be something that will get you out of bed – something pleasurable.

Give it a try and see what happens. Like I said, I’ve tried numerous methods until I finally found one that works. If you are trying to become a morning person – or a forced to become one – then keep trying various tricks until you find the one that works. Often, the simplest thing – such as a cup of coffee – is the one that works the best.

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Give Yourself a Gold Star

Good Job on paper imae

When I was reading The Happiness Project, a comment that Gretchen made several times caught my attention. She said that she likes to receive gold stars. That is to say, when she does something, she likes to receive some sort of feedback or at the very least acknowledgment, perhaps something as simple as hearing “great job!” after cleaning the kitchen. I chuckled when I read this as I was able to completely relate. I’m guessing that many of us can as well. There’s no denying that it’s often nice to get a pat on the back for our accomplishments.

This idea can be applied to our goals and resolutions as well. Giving yourself some manner of reinforcement can provide the necessary motivation to keep making progress. For me, something as simple as keeping a log of what I’m doing is enough to motivate me. I love to ride my bicycle in the summer and in the past, I typically managed it two or three times a week. But since I began keeping track of my mileage, I noticed that I was riding more – almost every day in fact. Seeing a notebook full of my mileage statistics seemed to give me extra motivation. The same thing worked for me when I quit smoking. I literally put a gold star on the calendar for each day that I went without a cigarette (I changed it to smiley faces after I ran out of stars). Even though it was silly reinforcement, it was reinforcement nonetheless. I find that without reinforcement, we tend to give up.

This can be applied to hobbies as well. I have an iPhone app called “Level Me Up!” which I use for my harp practice. I set the timer whenever I sit down at my harp — the eventual goal being 10,000 hours of practice (the idea is that if you do anything for 10,000 hours, you will inevitably become an expert at it). After each increment of 20 or so hours, you move up to the next level – and receive a round of applause when you do. It’s a cute little app but effective. It makes me want to attain that milestone of 10,000 hours so I keep going. I love the feeling of moving closer to that goal, level by level, applause by applause.

Why not give it a try? Start keeping track of your progress and your milestones. See how it changes your motivation. Those little gold stars just might help you to keep your New Year Resolutions.

Photo courtesy of stevendepolo

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Decide Who You Are and Be It

Image of smoker on a bicycle

Every year, I would add add a resolution to get up early to my list of goals. My resolution would read something like: “Wake up at 5:30 every day” or “Sleep no later than 5:00”.

And each year, I would inevitably fail at keeping this goal.

Oh, my good intentions would work for awhile – a week, perhaps two. Then I would fall into my same old habit of sleeping until 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning. It was at this point I would beat myself up, berating myself for my inability to keep one simple resolution.

Then one day I recalled a conversation I had many years ago , when I used to be a cigarette smoker. I worked on the 7th floor of our building and had decided that I wanted to get into shape a bit. So rather than taking the elevator, I hoofed up the stairs every day. One day, a coworker (also a smoker) saw me coming through the stairway doors. Our conversation went something like this:

Him: “Did you just take the stairs?”Me (trying to catch my breath): “Uh-huh”Him: “Why? Is the elevator broken?”

Me: “No. I’m just trying to get some exercise.”

Him (laughing): “Either you’re a smoker, or your an exerciser. You cannot be both. You really need to decide who you are and be it.”

That conversation popped back into my mind as I thought about my inability to discipline myself enough to wake up while it was still dark outside.

Then it hit me – I am simply not a morning person. No matter how hard I try, this was not going to change – and trying to force myself to become a morning person would only lead to more frustration.

Decide who you are and be it.

This has become one of my mantras and I have now looked at other aspects of my life where I was trying to change, trying to transform myself into something I was not. Once this idea of “being myself” became part of my consciousness, it was amazing how my frustration level decreased. No more doing things I didn’t enjoy just because I felt that I should be doing them. No more trying to emulate other people’s behavior. No more goals or resolutions that were unrealistic or unattainable for me. It truly was as if a giant weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. The best part of all, I found myself to be a much more productive person once I stopped wasting my time trying to be someone I wasn’t.

How about you? Are you trying to be someone you’re not?

Photo by Akuppa

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65 Things To Do Instead of Watching Television

Walking on the beach

In yesterday’s post, I talked about living a “television-free” lifestyle. People often ask me: what do you do with your time if you don’t watch television? I get a chuckle out of this as I feel pressed for time as it is – I couldn’t imagine spending several hours every night watching television. I would never get anything done!

Below are 50 things you can do instead of watching television:

1. Take a walk around your neighborhood
2. Read a novel
3. Bake cookies
4. Learn a musical instrument
5. Have a potluck dinner
6. Go out to a neighborhood coffee joint
7. Learn to knit, crochet or make a quilt
8. Write in your journal
9. Write a short story
10. Visit a friend
11. Spend the evening at your local library
12. Go for a bike ride
13. Go swimming
14. Go for a jog
15. Start a Memories Scrapbook
16. Write a letter to a far away friend or relative (a real one, not an e-mail)
17. Phone a friend or relative
18. Go browsing in a used bookstore
19. Rent a canoe or kayak and go for a paddle
20. Go on a picnic at a local park
21. Watch the sunset
22. Attend a free or low-cost local concert
23. Attend a play at your local high school theatre group
24. Go to a local high school or college sports event
25. Learn how to can jellies, jams and vegetables
26. Grow a vegetable garden
27. Go to a museum
28. Join a local book discussion club
29. Play a board game
30. Go to an old movie at a local inexpensive movie house.
31. Listen to your local National Public Radio Station
32. Watch the sunrise
33. Have a lively discussion with friends or family
34. Have a lengthy candlelight dinner
35. Start a blog
36. Take a class at your local Community College
37. Join Toastmaster to learn public speaking
38. Play cards
39. Bake homemade bread
40. Attend a lecture by a guest speaker
41. Learn a foreign language (or maybe more than one)
42. Learn a new computer software application
43. Learn how to program computers
44. Write a novel
45. Practice meditation
46. Join a local Meetup group (check out Meetup.com for a group near you)
47. Learn how to bake pastries
48. Listen to a book on CD
49. Declutter your house, garage, etc.
50. Spend time camping
51. Listen to a Podcast that you find interesting
52. Go fishing
53. Register in a local Master Gardener program
54. Acquire a new skill – or two, or three
55. Go bird watching
56. Join a local social/outdoors organization
57. Run for the local school board
58. Attend activities at your local Community Center
59. Create your own custom greeting cards
60. Take an online class through Lynda to learn a new computer skill
61. Take a photography class
62. Go on a Photography Walk
63.  Learn how to ride a motorcycle or scooter
64. Join a local storytelling group
65. Walk the Appalachian Trail

If you have spent a lot of your time in the past watching television, “kicking the habit” will certainly simplify your life. I know it has mine. Think of all the time you’ll have for developing new hobbies, making new friends and spending time with your loved ones. Rather then living a passive existence in front of the set, you’ll engage in more face-to-face real contact with real people. You will find yourself participating more in your real world and community rather than the fictional ones that stem from the imaginations of Hollywood writers. You’ll suddenly find yourself with time to think, reflect, dream and create and you’ll become a much more interesting person to boot. In no time at all, you’ll be glad you gave up television as your life becomes simpler and richer. I know it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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Living Without Television

child watching television image

I consider myself to have been a lucky child. I was raised in a household where our evenings didn’t revolve around the television set. I was rarely allowed to watch TV while growing up and whenever I begged, pleaded, screamed, whined, moaned, pouted or put up a major hissy fit because my request to watch the idiot box was heartlessly rejected by my mother, she would inform me that I will all the time in the world to watch television when I’m an old man and too feeble to do anything else. She then would chase me outside.

She was right, of course. I was raised on a 180 acre mostly wooded farm located only a mile from Lake Superior. Instead of being constantly spoon-fed entertainment from the TV, I was forced to create my own amusement. Sure, I would be bored at first. Then, I got bored with being bored. In the process, I had to actually become creative and come up with something to do. So I would spend my time romping through the woods, fishing in nearby creeks, playing ball with the neighbors, playing with my two dogs, camping with friends, learning to cook, swimming in the lake, writing stories, inventing games with the neighbor kids, exploring abandoned buildings, selling night-crawlers and worms to the locals, picking wild berries, digging tunnels in the hillside, growing my own garden, and listening to music or radio events – generally enjoying my childhood. Instead of lamely staring at the artificial glow of a piece of furniture and engrossing myself in the lives that someone else was living, I had to get out of the house and create my own life.

Being without TV also turned me into an avid reader, which I still am to this day. The highlight of my week would be the trips our family would take every Saturday to the local public library about 10 miles away. I never failed to walk out with an armload of books and would then spend my days accompanying Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys on their latest chilling mystery, or floating down a lazy river on a raft with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I wonder how much of that I would have missed had I spent 7 hours a day (the average time the television is on in the typical American household) mesmerized by the TV? Rather than being able to recite every episode of Bewitched, I have cultivated lifelong interests stemming from the near absence of television during my childhood.

It’s possible that growing up with limited television viewing is the reason I don’t miss it so much now in my life. Although there was a short period during my college years when I fell into the zombie-like trap of television viewing — and found my evenings planned around which shows were scheduled on which nights. Not coincidentally, this was also the time when “spendthrift mentality” dominated my life. I do not find it coincidental that television is the avenue that delivers the majority of advertising to us. The advertisers convince us that if we buy their products, we can be more attractive, more popular and more accepted by others. But in fact what television ads create is an insatiable appetite for more and a general feeling of discontent with our lives. We’re presented with the latest plastic gizmo from China and we end up feeling that we absolutely must have this in order to be a better person, a more prestigious person, or a more popular person. Television’s sole purpose is to sell us products and convince us that we actually need this junk. Television molds our minds and manipulates us in order to make us think the way the corporate advertisers want us to think.

I personally have found that when I watched a lot of TV, my spending increased along with the sentiment of being unsatisfied with what I already have. It’s amazing how this feeling of dissatisfaction with our present lives and this desire for “more” is slowly instilled into our minds without our realizing it. Television creates in us a consumer who is perpetually dissatisfied, anxious, envious, bored and left with a feeling of wanting more. Television tells us that if we live in a fancy house, buy expensive clothes, have a flashy car, a face without zits, and an iPhone, we will be better citizens. It tells us that in order to live rich, happy lives, we have to “consume.” When I nearly eliminated television from my life, I no longer had the urge to rush to the mall on the weekend and buy a bunch of stuff that I didn’t need. I no longer felt that I had to consume to feel that I was a valuable human being and have stopped comparing my lifestyle to the fictional characters represented on television. In limiting my exposure to advertising, I now have no idea what the latest gadget advertisers are trying to push on us and convince us that we can’t live without. So if I don’t know it’s out there, then I can’t possibly want it.

My goal in simplifying my life has been to only introduce those things which I feel are positive influences in my life. In doing so, I have decided that watching hours of violence, murder and rape is indeed not a positive influence in my life and absorbing myself in sitcoms every evening whose annoying laugh tracks tell me when I should laugh (as if I am unable to determine for myself what is amusing) does not add freedom to my life or make me a better person. Does having an advertiser literally scream at us every 10 minutes to buy their products really add an element of simplicity and inner peace to our lives?

I find that TV also makes us boring. Whenever I hear a bunch of people gathered around discussing the television shows that were on the previous night, I am almost always amazed. Rather than finding these people lively and interesting individuals, I find them and their topic of conversation to be dull and tedious. Is that the only thing we have to talk about these days – what happened on Lost, Dexter or CSI? Are the lives of fictional characters really relevant to anything? Do we truly care what happens to these people who don’t even really exist? Could you imagine if the shows we watched featured all of our favorite television characters sitting alone in their own separate rooms staring at the TV then gathering together later to discuss the plots of the sitcoms they just watched? We would probably find the whole concept idiotic and boring. But that’s what a lot of us are living. Rather than create our own interesting experiences, we live vicariously though imaginary television characters.

When I tell people that I don’t watch TV the first question I get is, “What on earth do you do in the evenings then?” Many people find it amazing that someone doesn’t pass their evenings in front of the tube, as if watching TV was a natural part of our existence. Think about it – our grandparents had full, satisfying lives without television and so can we.

I recall a conversation recently where I mentioned that I had just finished a second novel and am coming only smashingly with the learning the harp. My companion said, “how do you find the time to do all of this?” It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you have an extra 4-5 hours every evening.

I came up with a few ideas for activities that do not include television which I will post tomorrow. In the meantime, why not create your own personalized list?

Image courtesy of Aaron Escobar

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Letting Go of the Past

Duck Fight

Photo courtesy of Smoobs

Many of us are unwilling or unable to let go of the past. We carry this burden with us and instead of sending our energy to our work, our goals, or to spark our creativity, we end up sending it to resentments, grievances, past wrongs, and anger. I refer to this as “investing in a mausoleum” – because sending your energy to past events never pays off.

This reminds me of the story of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, who were traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain had just fallen. Near a village, they came across a lovely girl wearing a silk kimono and sash. She was trying to cross the road but the mud was so deep that it would have ruined her kimono. “Come on, girl”, Tansan said. He picked her up and carried her over the mud to the other side.

Both monks walked in silence until they reached the village five hours later. Finally, Ekido could no longer restrain himself. He said to Tanzan, “You know very well that monks are not allowed to go near females – especailly the young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that? Why did you carry her?”

“I put the girl down hours ago, ” Tanzan said. “Why are you still carrying her?”

Like Ekido, people who cannot let go of past situations and events carry huge burdens in their minds. Not only can such a burden become part of your sense of self, but can result in illness as well. Constant worry or dwelling on wrongs of the past can result in ulcers, digestive disorders and many other physical imbalances. Keeping past emotions and events alive in our minds also prevents us from focusing on the present, where our attention needs to be. Worry, resentment, bitterness and anger at past events do nobody any good; there are no benefits to it and it solves nothing. Again, it is investing in a mausoleum.

In the book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle observed that when two ducks get into a fight, which never lasts very long, they will then separate and float off in the the opposite direction. Each duck will flap its wings vigorously a few times, as if washing their hands of the fight. After doing so, they float on peacefully, as if nothing had ever happened.

Perhaps that what we need to learn how to do – to learn how to flap our wings and then put the past where it belongs – in the past. We’ll be better for for it.