The Broken Autopilot

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You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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Living 25 Minutes at a Time

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A little news before we begin: For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read, I’ve started recording audio versions of my articles going forward and reaching back. Also, look for “TheKenLane.com” on your favorite podcast player to subscribe. Thanks! – Ken


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When was the last time you needed to keep your focus on a particular task for more than 30 minutes? 

Sounds agonizing, right? Even as you read this sentence, your mind is likely conjuring up what you could be doing at the same time or what you need to do later. Most of us can’t even enjoy a favorite television show or movie on the couch without also scrolling through social media, news, or emails from a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Multitasking, or rather the illusion of it, has trained our brains to constantly seek up-to-the-second stimulation.

But what if you were told you’d be free to multitask to your heart’s content in return for just 25 minutes of focus? Everyone’s got 25 minutes, right?

Why is 25 minutes such an effective length of time for focus?

My fascination with 25-minute spans of focus started with the Pomodoro Technique—a strategy for productivity that could be explained to a 2nd grader. It goes like this:

Focus on a performing single task with intense concentration for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes in which you can do whatever you want. After you’ve completed four 25-minute concentration sessions, you take a 15-minute break. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 15 off. Rinse and repeat.

But this piece isn’t about the Pomodoro Technique—I’ve already written about that. What I’m talking about now is the beauty, the simplicity, the elegance, the congeniality of 25 minutes.

We can stand almost anything for 25 minutes.

25 minutes is the maximum amount of time most can focus without approaching the red-line of brain sizzle or scroll-twitch. It’s also just enough time to feel like we’ve accomplished, well, anything. Though we can put dents in a task after 10 or even 5 minutes, 25 minutes is the amount of time that most begin to feel the momentum of our focus and actions. Even if we struggle to initiate an arduous task, after 25 minutes, the sediment in our once-murky waters of focus will begin to settle and we’ll gain immense clarity not possible after a mere 5 or 10 minutes.

Also, when 25 minutes is presented with the promise of 5 or more minutes of aimless reprieve, focus comes easier. Don’t worry—in 25 minutes, you can be back to watching cat videos and checking your social media feeds. Is any reward more appealing than guilt-free time-wasting?

Most things can be segmented into 25-minute blocks.

After a few weeks of using the Pomodoro Technique during my workday, I began to notice how so many of my other daily activities could be segmented into 25-minute blocks. In fact, for most tasks, 25 minutes became their optimum time for focus.

  • 25-minute journaling sessions
  • 25-minute meditations sittings
  • 25-minute workouts
  • 25-minute prayer times
  • 25-minute book-reading periods

Despite all of these being daily habits that I cherish, I’ll admit it — there are times when I don’t want to do them. Maybe I don’t want to sit still that long for meditation or work myself into a panting, sweaty mess with a jump rope. It’s days these that I tell myself, “You don’t have to enjoy this today. All you have to do is put in the 25 minutes. That’s it.” And it doesn’t even have to be the best 25 minutes as long as it’s 25 minutes.

And I remember after all— it’s just 25 minutes.


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How to Make Self-Improvement Suck Dramatically Less

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They don’t know you, but you know you.

One of the reasons why most lifestyle enhancement plans and products fail is that they were not designed with you in mind. These influencers and plan developers don’t know you. They have no clue about what lifestyle changes would be sustainable for you. They don’t know what activities you hate doing and which you enjoy. But do you know who does know? You do, that’s who! 

What do you enjoy doing?

To design a growth-oriented lifestyle tailored to your specifications, the process itself must be enjoyable—or at the least, potentially enjoyable.

Step 1. Jot Down What You Like to Do

Bring to mind all of the things you currently enjoy doing as well as the activities you once enjoyed—regardless of their positive or negative implications. Physically jotting these down on a piece of paper or typing them into a document may prove to be helpful.

Step 2. Strikethrough the Destructive Habits

Recall or look through these activities and strikethrough all of the activities that are bad for you. These can range from unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking to compulsive social media checking, maintaining toxic relationships, and the like. 

Step 3. Highlight the Activities That Are Good For You

Regardless of how unhealthy your favorite activities are, there are likely a few that aren’t bad for you. Heck, some may even be good for you. There are probably even some that are extremely good for you that you haven’t thought about in decades. Even still, there are likely some activities you enjoy that share an unlikely component with something that is good for you. 

Let’s use some examples to get the wheels turning. 

Activities You Currently Enjoy That Are Good For You

Ok, maybe you’re not a total loaf of soggy bread. Maybe you genuinely enjoy the occasional walk around town. Perhaps you enjoy learning from historical documentaries. Consider the things you do every day that aren’t actively hastening your demise.

Activities You Once Enjoyed But Hadn’t Thought About Since

Did you play sports in high school? Middle school? Elementary school? Did you enjoy writing stories as a kid? How about painting? Have you stopped playing a musical instrument because life got too busy? 

Activities Your Enjoy That Could Correspond to Something Good For You

Do you enjoy sitting still? Look at you—you potential meditator, you. 

Do you tend to doodle during inconsequential meetings? Is that a budding illustrator I see?

What are your personal goals? 

We all have positive goals in life. Maybe you want to achieve and maintain a certain level of fitness. Perhaps you’d like to get more sleep. Maybe you want to become an avid reader. Bring these specific goals to mind and jot them down—the more specific, the better. 

And finally—use your favorite activities as tools in your growth.

Whether you physically wrote down your goals and favorite activities or just have them at the forefront of your mind, begin to draw lines between the two. 

  • Which of your favorite activities can you leverage toward your goals?
  • Which of your past favorite activities could you revisit to aid your progress? 
  • Which of your favorite activities are negatively inhibiting your goals?
  • How can you replace these harmful-yet-enjoyable activities with positive activities you enjoy? 

Stuff You Enjoy + Stuff That’s Good For You = Stuff You Should Do

venn diagram of stuff you enjoy and stuff that is good for you

When you leverage your favorite activities that also happen to align with your goals, you can begin to craft a growth-oriented lifestyle you enjoy. This Venn diagram should summarize the point of this article as well as anything. 

I jump rope because it’s fun. Fitness is a side effect. 

When I was in elementary school in the early-to-mid ‘90s, Jump Rope For Heart was on a crusade to get kids jumping rope. I remember enjoying the experience thoroughly. However, once I moved into middle school, where gym class was optional, I didn’t touch a jump rope again until I was into my 30’s. 

Why did I pick up jump rope again? Was it because I was at my heaviest weight of 235 pounds? Was it because I was researching various forms of exercise and found jump rope to be one of the most underrated forms of cardio? 

Nope. It just looked fun. And it was. 

Beginning again as an easily-winded sack of flab means it wasn’t necessarily easy, but even as an utterly sedentary desk jockey, I enjoyed the challenge. 

Every week, my stamina increased, and my body began to change. I had no specific weight-loss goal in mind, aside from possibly dipping below 200 pounds for the first time in about five years. That happened rather uneventfully because, though the process was challenging, it didn’t suck. I enjoyed pushing myself to my limits and leaving puddles of sweat in my driveway. I would look forward to my next jump rope session with anticipation rather than dread.  

At the time I write this, I jump rope six days a week, regardless of the weather, for 15-30 minutes, striving to keep an average heart rate of above 145 bpm. 

Is it hard some mornings? Yes. 

Is it challenging to push through when I feel like giving up? Definitely. 

Does it suck? Absolutely not. 

Leverage what you consider fun. Lean into what you consider challenging. 

Whether you’re looking to run a faster mile, lose and keep off a certain amount of weight, or develop a useful meditation habit, utilizing the activities you already enjoy will help you not only tolerate the growth process but crave it. When you use enjoyable activities to push your journey towards achievement, you pour rocket fuel on your progress.

Don’t Abandon the Tools You Forged in 2020

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Take a look before you close the book. 

Though we’d all love to shelf 2020 (or run it through the shredder), there’s no denying that we all learned a lot about ourselves throughout this year. It would be a shame to call 2020 an absolute waste—especially since it had so many lessons to impart. Yes, most of these lessons are how not to do certain things, but also how to lean into the storm of life to keep it from completely knocking us down. 

For some, the lessons they learned and skills developed were how to cope with physical obstacles—lost jobs, lost homes, lost connections, lost bodily health, and even sadly, the loss of loved ones. For others, the obstacles were more mental and emotional—anxiety, depression, isolation, a lack of motivation. The list is endless.

Despite these obstacles, when carefully studied, we can recall the strategies, remedies, and mindsets we used to endure. 

If the tools and emotional armor we developed worked as well as they did when we squared off directly with the travails of 2020, how much more effective could these approaches prove for positive growth and maintenance during times less fraught with adversity? 

Let’s say you were forced to become more frugal with your finances because a member of your family lost their job. Maybe you can take these newfound budgeting skills beyond when money is coming in to save toward your goals. 

Maybe, to better cope with the anxiety and depression of being away from friends and loved ones, you were forced to seek and cultivate new practices to maintain your mental health. These methods could have included meditation, exercise, therapy, spirituality, or new interests. Though developed under immense pressure, these beneficial coping methods should be treated like precious gems you can continue to keep with you.

Before you close the book on 2020 and abandon it entirely—writing it off as a painful memory— remember the tools you forged to help you make it through the storm. These tools can prove to be invaluable companions that will serve you for the rest of your life.

Waking Up: We’re Focusing On the Wrong Metric

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Even after we’ve grown up, we still believe in superheroes. 

The “work hard, play hard” mentality has convinced a generation of “wantrepreneurs” that hard work, long hours, and a swiss-army-knife-array of lifehacks are the key to success. Those who can endure such grueling schedules are not only seen as more than successful—they’re superhuman

An obsession with the lifestyles of high-achieving entrepreneurs and personalities has led many to fixate on a popular hustle metric: what time you get up in the morning. 

And guess what? According to recent scientific research, they’d have to be superhuman for such lifestyles to be sustainable. 

The Downside of Irresponsible Early Rising

The appeal of getting up early is the goal of adding hours to one’s days. Though you stayed up late, getting up early gives you a headstart on life—providing time to exercise, tend to your wellbeing, or squeeze in an edge on the snoozing competition. However, science says that the wakefulness we steal from our mornings to pay for this edge are debts that will very likely come due. 

According to sleep scientist, Matthew Walker  and author of the acclaimed book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, forgoing the medical community’s recommended quantity of sleep is associated with a shorter, more disease-ridden life. 

“Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep,” Walker reports. “So, that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that you can sleep when you’re dead—it’s actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint.”

Sleep & Dementia

Most of us are familiar with the zombie-like walk to the bathroom after a night of bad sleep and the brain fog that looms over our day. This sensation may be a precursor to a more permanent condition. New studies have found a startling association between insufficient sleep and the likelihood of greater cognitive decline

Our waking brain has been found to maintain a build-up of metabolic waste. This beta-amyloid waste has been associated with the impairment of communication between neurons present in Alzheimer’s patients.  Though this sounds scary, there’s a bright side: like running the dishwasher overnight on pots and pans, sufficient sleep releases a flood of cerebrospinal fluid to wash this waste away. 

Failing to achieve sufficient sleep can be compared to leaving your dried peanut-butter-coated china in the dishwasher overnight and hoping a light rinse will leave them adequately ready for important company the next day. 

In Why We Sleep, Walker contributed two examples of famous high-achievers who frequently boasted their lack of a need for sufficient sleep—the U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both of these officials were known for their almost superhuman ability to function on very little sleep. What else did they have in common? They both later suffered from severe dementia that robbed them of their mental acuity and likely shortened their lives. Though these are just two examples, the before mentioned has established associations between a lack of sleep and advanced cognitive decline.

Sufficient Sleep Recommendations

So, what is considered insufficient sleep? 3 hours a night? 4 hours a night? Think again: anything below 6 hours a night.  

In addition to cognitive decline, Walker’s research has also linked insufficient sleep to a significant increase in the likelihood of developing:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Disrupted sex hormones and infertility
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • An overall depleted immune system 

In other words, any condition that can kill you is aided by insufficient sleep. To add insult to injury, Walker pointed out in a noted TED Talk that men who only sleep five hours a night have, on average, been found to have smaller testicles. So, in case you needed any other reason to get more sleep, fellas—there you go.  

The Time You Should Be Obsessed With

What is the most important alarm for those who want to get an early start? It’s definitely not their morning alarm, but an evening alarm. Because the evening hours are notorious for slipping by us, setting evening “get ready for bed” and “lights out” alarms are your best bet to getting to bed at a time required to receive sufficient sleep—anywhere from between 7-9 hours of sleep, according to Walker. 

Powering Down in Phases

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting up early. If anything, some of the highest performing athletes also beat the dawn. However, unlike many of their peers in achievement, professional athletes carefully structure their hours of sleep. How do they do this? By regimenting and guarding their evening activities. In addition to a designated “light’s out” time, many sleep guardians are known to practice power-down phases to prepare their bodies and minds for sleep.

Noted triathlete Chris Leiferman has reported an evening schedule that he and his wife are committed to observing: 

“I follow the same bedtime routine and start getting ready for bed around 9 p.m. My wife and I turn off the TV and don’t look at our phones other than setting the alarm to have 30-45 minutes of no ‘blue’ light before we go to sleep. I then read a book to get my eyes tired, then I kiss my wife goodnight, and I’m out cold in a couple of minutes.”

Following a similar routine can ensure you receive sufficient sleep.

Bring the Lights Down

As the sun sets, you should also start to bring down the lighting in your home. Turn off unnecessary lights and soften any that you can. Increased lighting in the home has been found to suppress melatonin—a key sleep hormone.

Reduce Blue Light Sources

While turning off bright overhead lights can help you prepare for bed, your favorite devices can also be suppressing your melatonin and throwing off your circadian rhythms by emitting generous amounts of blue light. Televisions, computer monitors, and phone screens are the worst offenders. About an hour before bed, try to limit your use of such disruptive devices. Instead, opt for that book you’ve been meaning to get to, journal about what’s on your mind, or play a board game with another member of your household.

What to Avoid Before Bed

To ensure quality sleep, there are several behaviors and consumables you will want to avoid. Some of these seem fairly straightforward. Others seem counterintuitive. 

  • Alcohol: Though it can feel like the occasional glass or two of wine can help you nod off easier, its key ingredient can lead to later tossing and turning. Though the alcohol can help you drift off, the body won’t begin to fully metabolize it until later—a process that can leave your body feeling restless. The consumption of alcohol before bed has also been found to inhibit deep R.E.M. sleep.  
  • Caffeine after 5 PM: Though caffeine only spikes your energy levels for about a half-hour to an hour after consumption, its effects can linger for as much as five hours. Yes, that trip to Starbucks after work may be the reason you’re still tossing and turning at night.
  • Exercise: I’ll admit, I used to enjoy using up the last of my energy for the day with a jump rope in my driveway at 9 PM. However, the effort of intense exercise can spike levels of cortisol—your body’s main stress hormone. For this reason, keep your exercise to no more than three hours before lights out.
  • Distractions in the bed: As we’ve mentioned above, the blue light from TV, computer, and mobile devices can inhibit the production of melatonin—disrupting your brain’s circadian rhythms. While all screens should be avoided in bed, your bed should also be treated as a place reserved for two things—1. Sleep 2. Sex. Watching TV, working on a laptop, or even reading books can muddy your brain’s understanding of the purpose of your bed and result in restlessness. 
  • Sleep aids: For many, getting to bed means popping a popular sedative. There’s only one problem with that—sedation and sleep are not synonymous mental states. Natural sleep is an incredibly elaborate restorative process of the mind and body. Sedatives, on the other hand, simply induce unconsciousness without many of the other attributes of sleep. As Matthew Walker put it, “We don’t have any good pharmacological approach right now to replicate such a nuanced and complex set of biological changes.”  

In Bed ≠ Time Asleep

When running the numbers on how to achieve sufficient sleep, remember to leave a window of time to actually fall asleep. For most healthy individuals, falling asleep takes about 10 to 20 minutes on average.  For this reason, it’s important to differentiate “lights out” from “sleeping” time. 

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

There will always be occasions when, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t sleep. What to do now? Get out of bed. 

Why get out of bed? According to Walker, your brain is an extremely environmentally sensitive machine. If you spend enough time awake, staring at your ceiling in rumination, your brain will associate that activity with your bed. Instead, get out of bed, possibly even going into another room. Use that time to read a book (not on a screen), listen to soothing music, write in a journal, play solitaire with a deck of cards, or meditate until you grow tired enough for sleep. These types of relaxing activities will not only help you to grow sleepier but will also likely distract you from the anxieties that may be keeping you awake. 

In Conclusion

For its importance to absolutely every aspect of our health, the only reason we’re not asked about it more by our physicians is the timeliness of understanding its importance—thanks to the very recent strides in imaging technology. Despite these earth-shattering discoveries, neurologist Matthew Walker believes that we are, as a society, experiencing a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.” 

So, what is the best way to attempt to maximize your own potential to live the lives of your idolized superheroes? Go to bed on time. 

Because, as Walker put it in his TED Talk,

“Sleep is your superpower.” 


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For Your Future Self: 4 Attributes of a Sustainable Existence

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“How long can I keep doing this?”

143

In addition to being an accomplished television personality, minister, and musician, “Mister” Fred Rogers was also an immensely disciplined fellow. He was a vegetarian who never drank or smoked. He went to bed every night at 9:30 PM. He rose every morning at 5 AM, and began every day with prayer, answering fan mail, and swimming laps. After swimming, he’d weigh himself. Every time, the scale was the same: 143 pounds—the “I love you” number as he’d call it due to the number of letters in those words. 

Was this routine flashy? Hardly. Was it sustainable? Undoubtedly. 

Inspired by Rogers and my desire to be a friend to the older versions of myself, I’ve grown fixated on cultivating the most sustainable lifestyle possible. This research continues, but this piece contains what I’m presently referring to as “The Four Attributes of a Sustainable Existence.”

Life Sustained

Four touchstones must be present when determining which lifestyle activities, habits, or routines are sustainable—a sustainability test, if you will.  

  1. Positive: The activity has to be something that you won’t need to give up eventually. 
  2. Honest: The activity has to be something you honestly want to pursue with motivations authentic to your character. 
  3. Simple Reasoning: the reason for pursuing this activity needs to be simple.
  4. Enjoyment: you need to enjoy the activity separate from the benefit it brings. 

Throughout this piece, I’ll be using the routine of jumping rope for 25 minutes, six days a week as an example of a sustainable lifestyle habit of mine and why it met all these criteria for me (and maybe you, too, but hey, that’s you...)

1. The activity needs to be good for you…or at least not bad for you.

Starting with the most obvious, any lifestyle activity you hope to pursue into old age shouldn’t be anything that will, at some point, result in negative consequences. Some examples of not-good activities include nightly cigar smoking, a keto diet, or afternoon ice cream. While any of these may begin as harmless niceties or even helpful tools, if you’ll have to give it up eventually, there’s no use in starting it now.

Example: One of the reasons I chose jump rope as my favorite form of exercise as opposed to, say, motocross racing, is due to its sustainable nature. With the proper conditioning, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do jump rope cross-overs and boxer-skips into my 90’s. Ok, maybe not double-unders, but I can take or leave those.

Secondary thought: is it good (or at least not bad) for the world?

This activity should also not be harmful to others. (This is perhaps the most common understanding of modern use of the word sustainable—which many use in an environmental context.)  For instance, if you decide to pursue an activity that requires a product whose manufacturing or disposal is overly destructive to the environment, this activity may not be sustainable. Likewise, if this activity damages a valuable relationship, it’s also likely not sustainable.

2. Do you really want this? Why? 

Despite our ambitions, there is a certain amount of virtue in properly giving up on a goal. To determine which ambitions to pursue or discard, we can simply look at the honesty of our motivations. 

  • Do you want to read all 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud to glean its information, or are you doing so for the bragging rights? 
  • Do you want those six-pack abs to combat dangerous subcutaneous and visceral fat or to flaunt it on your Instagram feed?
  • Do you want to wake up 5:30 AM to get a jump on the day or because you simply want to share that aspect of your daily routine with your favorite influencer? 

Honest Motivation = Stored Willpower

Any activity we pursue will occasionally depend upon stored motivation and willpower to commence or pursue. If our motivations are frivolous or shallow, that fuel source will be spoiled when we need it most. When our motivations for pursuing a specific goal are constructed on vain or fragile foundations, they are doomed from the start.

To test this, ask yourself: 

“Do I want the result because I want it? Or do I want the result because I’m supposed to want it?”

Example: 

My motivation for jumping rope is pretty straightforward: to maintain my fitness and because it’s fun. Yes, I’m supposed to want to maintain my fitness and pursue fun things, but I also genuinely want to pursue these endeavors for my own sake—thus, this goal has a sustainable motivation.  

Besides, if I was going for cool points, I could have done a lot better than a jump rope

3. Is your motivation simple enough to endure?

If our motivations for pursuing a task are unclear or overly complicated, determining success may be difficult—and thus, the reward illusive. To test your motivations’ simplicity, see if you can express them in a single concise sentence. 

Here are a few examples of my own reasons for pursuing my routines/habits:

  • Why do I practice intermittent fasting? To aid my digestion and boost metabolism. 
  • Why do I jump rope six days a week? To maintain my fitness and because it’s fun.
  • Why do I journal? To process my thoughts and emotions. 
  • Why do I meditate? To train my attention span.
  • Why do I allot eight hours in bed every night? To maintain my health and focus.   

Now, enjoy some examples of my past routines/habits I’ve abandoned due to complicated or misguided motivations: 

  • Why do I practice strength training? Because I’d like to, at least once in my life, see what my abs look like under that gut fat. I mean, wouldn’t it be pretty cool? I guess, though it’s not a huge deal, it seems like something I should want. (Yep, and I ditched it.)
  • Why do I engage in the Daf Yomi (daily reading of Talmud every day, resulting in completion in seven-years-time)? I imagine that studying Talmud and navigating all of the arguments of the sages would give me immense insights into Jewish life. Besides, being able to say “I’ve completed Shas(Daf Yomi)” is something not everyone can say. (And thus, I closed the book.)
  • Why do I get up at 5:30 AM? Some of the most accomplished minds get up at 5:30 AM, if not even earlier. Getting up an hour or more early will give me time to do more throughout my day…right? (I didn’t quite believe this and was tired of cutting sleep short, so I have since abandoned the notion.)

If you have to sell yourself on your motivations, pursuing the associated goal is likely not sustainable.

4. How much fun are you having?

Another sustainability sniff test for a lifestyle activity is how much pleasure you derive from the process…independent of the goal. 

“Because I Want To” Passes the Test…As Long As You Do

To piggyback on clearly defining motivations, one of those motivations may simply be, “because I enjoy doing it.” That was my initial motivation for jumping rope. Though it has transitioned into, “I jump rope to maintain a certain level of fitness,” as well, the process began solely as, “Hey, that looks fun.” Because fun was my original motivation for starting it, I still enjoy the process to this day. Any project or activity we begin must remain pleasurable to remain sustainable. 

Pleasurable Doesn’t Always Mean Non-Stop-Fun

Only pursuing projects I find pleasurable does not mean that I am perpetually laughing like an idiot through every step of a process. During a writing project, I may end up banging my head against the wall regarding what word to use or how to structure a piece. During exercise, I may end up frustratedly tripping over my jump rope. Despite these challenges and disappointments, exasperations eventually give way to breakthroughs, making them an enjoyable part of the process. However, when the highs no longer justify the lows, it may be time to abandon an unsustainable initiative.

In Conclusion: I’m Actually Lazy

While the idea of cultivating sustainable lifestyle activities and projects seems ambitious, it’s actually a process I’ve lovingly dubbed utilitarian laziness. It’s nothing more than buffing out the friction of false-starts, thin motivations, and superfluous fluff from life to get us closer to the good stuff—fewer items on our docket, but each one packing a resonant punch that helps us live a life that truly sticks to our ribs.

The Greatest Piece of Financial Advice I’ve Ever Received

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So many of us struggle to live within our means. Part of the reason for this is that our checking account balance is lying to us. No, you actually do have that amount in your account, but many of us forget how or more specifically when it got there. 

I used to wonder why I was so slammed up against the wall as I neared the end of a pay period. I would find myself at the grocery store the day before payday, wondering whether or not I should use my credit card or move money from savings into my checking account. 

 How the heck did this happen? Well, it turns out that I was misreading my checking account balance. This was causing me to spend beyond my means quite comfortably the first week or so after being paid—a false assurance. It wasn’t until I received one tip from a financial advisor through my Native American tribe that helped me look at my checking account differently, to live within my means, and start putting savings away. 

The first thing you should do when you get paid is to move everything that had existed in your checking account before payday into savings and act as though it never existed. That will force you to truly live on your salary and not feel like you have more because of what remained from your last pay cycle. 

She was right—I hadn’t been seeing a realistic picture of my means due to the remnants of my last paycheck artificially inflating my checking account balance.

Her advice sounds ridiculously simple, but it worked. If my paycheck hit my account on top of, say, $300 that was in there before, that $300 got thrown into savings. Now, every time I look at my checking account, the only info looking back at me is only what my most recent paycheck had left and the spending since then. This little behavior has forced me to more diligently stick to my budget but also to truly live within my means. No matter how much is left over, it goes to savings. As far as I’m concerned, that money is stowed behind a rock on the moon.

Anyway, I hope this helps someone as much as it helped me. 

How to Intentionally Waste Time More Efficiently

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If there’s a concept most of us wrangle with the most, it’s time. There doesn’t seem to be enough of it in a day. No time to work, pursue your dreams, spend time with loved ones, take care of yourself, and fart around. There is one simple tool I’ve found to be the most helpful for what I call “time dieting”—your basic timer. 

Yes, a timer. It could be a timer app or asking Siri, Alexa, or Google to let you know when a certain amount of time has passed. It could even be an egg timer or a simple watch timer that beeps or buzzes.

How to Use a Timer to Manage Your Life

Yes, not your day—your LIFE. Why so dramatic? Because…

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” – Annie Dilliard

 Anyway, back to the timer. 

What the timer allows you to do is to section off periods of the day and dedicate them to specific activities. Why is this necessary? Because we’re abysmal at doing so without assistance.

Setting Intentions

 How many times has, “I’m just going to scroll (enter social media platform here) real quick and then get back to work,” turned into two completely soul-draining, utterly unproductive hours? Not to say that there’s anything wrong with two unproductive hours—as long as that was your intention for those two hours. But was that your intention? Likely not. You probably intended to scroll the infinity pool of social media for 10 minutes and then regained consciousness 110 minutes later. 

Now, if you’ve been dutifully working for an hour and would like some intellectual novocaine, you should be allowed to imbibe now and again. However, if you down the whole bottle (or vial…I don’t know what receptacle novocaine comes in) on TikTok, you may not return to the productive world for the rest of the day. That is why a timer is the perfect measuring spoon. 

A timer is a leash that permits you to “wander off” for 10 minutes, only to bring you back once you’ve run out of chronological slack. It is your ankle tether keeping you from straying from your board of intention. 

Time Dieting: Nourish & Imbibe

I use a simple wrist timer to measure out my doses of hyperfocus and intellectual novocaine throughout the day. Sometimes, I turn to my timer and go… 

“Ok, I’m going to read with an immense focus for 30 minutes.”

Ready. Set timer. READ. For the next 30 minutes, I pour my focus into reading. 

Other times, I allow myself to unabashedly go down the rabbit hole of news, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube videos for 15 minutes as a reward for or motivation to conduct more productive behavior.

Ready. Set timer. IMBIBE. Until that timer goes off, it’s off to White House Press Conference coverage, trending hashtags, Instagram Stories, and life hack videos on YouTube. 

I repeat this process for meditation, exercise, vegging on the porch, and even work via the Pomodoro Technique. Each watch buzz on my wrist is a tug on my time leash, drawing me out of said intentional activity, no matter how productive or juvenile it is. 

“Ya Can’t Have One Without the Other.”

I find that occasional shots of mental novocaine straight to my prefrontal cortex are as necessary as the rest of my meaningful pursuits. Giving yourself the occasional cheat day from all-out productivity helps one stave off burnout and can even increase drive…when used in moderation, of course. In many instances, I use the promise of upcoming mental downtime as a reward for focused work or other productive accomplishments. Frequently, dangling carrots of sloth on the end of long sticks of productivity can pull my donkey out of the ditch of procrastination. There are instances when I will work my arse off for the chance to do absolutely nothing. Sometimes, I will burn the midnight oil if it means I get to sleep in (though, being an early bird, it usually means I will greet the dawn if it means I get to turn in early). 

How do I regulate my bouts of intentional neural lethargy? Again, a simple timer. 

“Ok, you’re allowed 10 minutes of watching video reviews of products you already own in return for 45 minutes of productive work.”

“You got it, boss. I’m going to knock out deep cleaning up my office. Then…I’m going to watch strangers share their thoughts about a jump rope I already own.” 

Dessert First?

There are instances when, no matter the size of the dangled carrot, my donkey ain’t moving. For those instances, I find it helpful to give the donkey a down payment—a tiny nibble on the reward. Perhaps five minutes of stand-up comedy on YouTube will remind my inner do-nothing the bliss of earned inertia.

Ready. Set timer. Cue 5-minutes of jokes about garage sales.

(5-minutes later.)

Buzz…buzz…buzz…

Ok, that was delightful. I’m coming back to that…in 45 minutes.

(Sets timer for 45 minutes of focused work to earn additional listlessness.)

Rinse and repeat.

Giving Up is Immensely Underrated

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last year, I cultivated four incredibly beneficial lifestyle habits (and wrote a free book about the experience) that I continue to utilize in my daily life. As 2020 rolled around, I was incredibly inspired to see what other habits I could develop. As I began to look into my spiritual life, though prayer was now a regular morning staple, my religious study was in need of some strengthening. Fortunately for me, there was Daf Yomi. 

If you don’t know what Daf Yomi is, don’t worry—even a lot of Jewish folks don’t, much less the general public. “Daf Yomi” literally means “a page a day.” A page of what? Talmud. What is Talmud? The Talmud (specifically the Babylonian Talmud) is over 300 years of conversations between Jewish religious authorities extrapolating, debating, and exploring every nook and cranny of Jewish law. Discussions are filled with great wisdom, table-pounding arguments across centuries, a dash of old-timey folklore, and even jokes. It’s words fill 63 books known as “tractates” and 2,711 double-sided folio pages—each called a “daf.” One side/half of a “daf,” when translated into English, is roughly 1,000-1,300 words. When read in English at a conversational pace, each “daf” takes about 30 minutes. 

If studying Talmud sounds quite daunting and difficult to navigate, that’s because it absolutely is. That being said, many find its study immensely fulfilling. It is said to sharpen the mind of its students—teaching them how to carefully examine life’s most and least significant questions with an analytical mind. To manage the process of studying the entire Talmud, some authorities on the matter established Daf Yomi— a “one page a day” cyclical and communal study of the Babylonian Talmud. This seven-year(and some change) study sought to make Talmud study like eating the metaphorical elephant one bite at a time in lock-step with the community. Because everyone partaking in the study is on the same page every day, they could discuss the same material. Sidenote: If you plan on eating a non-metaphorical elephant, they are technically kosher, but their size and strength make appropriately and humanely slaughtering them virtually impossible. That, and they’re largely endangered, so you’d end up looking like a real jerk. Anyway, back to the article. 

Though one need not to wait for the Daf Yomi merry-go-round to end before hopping on, around the turn of the new year, the previous cycle had just finished with a new one slated to begin again just a week or so after the beginning of 2020. I was determined to hop on. What happened next was mostly my own fault. 

Accountability Man

I approached studying Daf Yomi like I did my other habits. 

Identity: Instead of telling myself “I’m a guy who studies Daf Yomi,” I started saying, “I’m a committed Daf Yomi student.” Check. 

Environment: I had found the perfect nook at my kitchen table that I would utilize for my study. As soon as my son was asleep, I’d go to my Daf Yomi nook and get started. 

Accountability: Boy, oh, boy did I lean into accountability. I knew I couldn’t be trusted to start studying Daf Yomi on my own and keep with it. 

Because of this, firstly, I set up a group text with a handful of buddies from my synagogue (most of whom never expressed an interest in being in such a group—sorry, fellas) with the idea that each of us could share what we gleaned from the daily daf. 

Secondly, I actually set up a website blog where I would share my daily daf insights. 

My third accountability step took it to the next level; I made a Daf Yomi podcast using Anchor. I read the daily daf in English into my phone for the benefit of one of the dyslexic group text members who prefers audiobooks. 

I planned on being one daf ahead of the group so that the podcast episode would drop the morning of its accompanying daf. 

So, off I went.

I started at a gentle pace. I got a free Sunday afternoon, so I preloaded my week by studying and recording several pages of Daf Yomi. Once that surplus was published, I went back to daily…then back to preloading. 

I checked in with the group every so often. At first, everyone was immensely responsive to the daily insights. Some were sharing their own. My dyslexic friend thanked me immensely for my efforts with the podcast.

The blog was…well, a brand-new blog. It can take months or years for a blog to get traction. I essentially treated it as a repository for my notes. 

As I went along, the group text response began to fizzle. I asked my dyslexic friend if he had been enjoying the podcast. He said he had gotten around to “this week’s” episodes.  

After a few weeks of reading into my phone for 30 minutes a day followed by writing summaries and scheduling posts, the weight of Daf Yomi went from a giggling baby on my shoulders to an impatient, squirmy toddler. While the insights were fascinating, the break-neck schedule didn’t allow me to spend time with the content. This isn’t the fault of Daf Yomi, but rather the lack of bandwidth my daily schedule allowed. I was beginning to feel burnout from what now seemed like a daily homework assignment on top of daily prayer, meditation, exercise, spending time with my son, my wife, my job, my friends, books I wanted to read, etc. I had to be truly honest with myself—Daf Yomi was not currently how I wanted to spend my time. 

Before I got through the first tractate, I decided to quit. 

The Freedom of Being Honest With One’s Self

Though I truly wanted to be a student of Daf Yomi, it turns out that I didn’t want it as bad as I had initially thought. While it seemed like a nice idea, it was never really a passion. Don’t get me wrong—I love being a student of my faith, but a tractate of Talmud isn’t what my hand naturally gravitates to when approaching my bookshelf. I’m much more of a Mishneh Torah, Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Nachman, or Mussar type of guy. 

But this extends further than which books I want to read. This extends into being honest with who I am. Should I want to be a Talmud student? Sure—Talmud has shaped the faith, practice, and minds of my people for generations. Am a Talmud student? Eh, not really. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And I’m not saying that I shouldn’t give up on religious study altogether just because Talmud study isn’t my cup of tea, but rather that being honest with myself allows me the freedom to explore what is my cup of tea and give it more of my time. Why? Sometimes someone’s cup of tea isn’t tea at all. Sometimes it’s black coffee. 

As soon as I decided, “I quit, but I feel OK about quitting,” that squirming toddler on my shoulders of the responsibilities associated with Daf Yomi stopped fluttering and hopped down. I pointed my existing podcast listeners to an alternative podcast with a passionate host. I completely took down the blog (not that it really had any traction) and reallocated that slot in my day towards things that truly resonated with who I am. I increased my journaling. I tightened the bolts on my daily exercise and meditation routine. I made a conscious effort to be more present with my wife and son. I started to interact with friends, setting up hang outs mostly free of digital distractions. I did things that I would look forward to with great anticipation.

I learned a lot from my short time studying Daf Yomi, but the biggest lesson I learned is that an intentional, well-executed “OK, I give up” is immensely underrated.

 

What I Learned in 2019: My Last Journal Entry of the Year

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I do believe that 2019 has been one of the most transformational years of my life. It will forever go down as the year of intention — of discovering what I believe a great life to be and what is necessary to live it out daily. 

This year I learned…

Good habits don’t have to suck. They can be downright enjoyable. In fact, they should be enjoyable or else you probably won’t stick with them. Removing as much friction between you and your doings is the only way to ensure they actually get done. 

I am not the voice in my head. Meditation has shown this to me. It has also shown me that the voice in my head may actually represent the worst side of me, but that this is only through years of leaning into a negative bias. Training the voice in my head to be positive and the idea that I can do so has been immensely inspiring. 

It’s surprising how little I need to be happy. And these aren’t even “needs”, but falling more under the category of “pleasantries.” A good book. A comfortable pair of shoes. A jump rope. A practical watch. A french press coffee maker. The occasional drink. A few musical instruments. A means of hearing great music. My prayer accouterment. Boom — I’m a happy camper. All other joys are nonphysical. 

Social media is no match for a one-on-one drink with a good friend. Keeping up with a myriad of acquaintances online has lost its luster. But even the cheapest of beers with the oldest of pals has really become a release valve for me. I would take an evening with a buddy over the most spectacular, extravagant entertainment money can buy. 

There’s a certain pleasure in getting my attention locked into a good book. This has been the first year that my attention span has been trained to the point of being able to do this. In fact, there are times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to be left alone with whatever book I happened to be enjoying. This is new for me, but I pray that it continues. 

Memento mori. Tomorrow is not promised, that I am going to die one day so that I need to take active steps towards my goals now. If you’re going to write that book, start now because tomorrow is not promised. If you’re going to be that amazing father, start this instant because you’re not promised another breath. Avoid deathbed regret whenever possible. 

Amor fati — love your fate and let it update who you are. The good and the bad should both be leaned into to become a better you. 

Don’t react — respond. If you don’t know how to do so, train your mind through meditation. Sit with your thoughts to see that they are thoughts. This is how you will be able to create the buffer necessary to respond to life’s happenings rather than impulsively react to them. 

Life is too short for your second string anything. After finding the cut of pants you like the most, the coffee mug you go for first, and socks that actually positively transform your mood, don’t feel the need to regularly tolerate anything less than these if you can help it. Your second favorites are likely only taking up space not only in your cupboard and garage but also in your mind. 

There is a certain buzz that can be attained by simply choosing to be present. Most of the time, we’re not wherever our bodies are or actively taking in experiences as they unfold before us. Even during moments of elevated experience, our minds are time-traveling — considering the possibilities of the future or ruminating about the past. Life-changing moments are witnessed through phone screens instead of being fully savored as they unfold. Purpose-infusing experiences are completely missed due to mental scab-picking. Deciding to let the past remain in the past, the future to come in due time if at all, and to concentrate fully on experiencing the present moment like a live-streaming camera is so rare that doing so can actually bring on a lively rush. Choosing to be fully present can drastically transform your life. 

Happy New Year.