Nov 092011
 

What gets measured, gets improved.

I’m a huge proponent of goals in certain areas of life, but you don’t always need to set specific, stress-you-out-when-you-stumble-a-bit goals to improve your daily habits.

Our minds play tricks on us. When it comes to changing bad habits into better ones, humans are usually convinced that they are doing better than they really are — it is “ostrich syndrome” — most of us stick our heads in the sand, preferring not to face the accurate reality of our daily actions. We always thing we are doing better than we are on the bad habits front.

Change is difficult and changing daily habits is exceptionally so. No matter if you want to eat more portions of healthy fruits and vegetables or reduce the number of alcoholic drinks you have in a week, the best first step is to face your current situation and understand your true baseline reality.

People often make a fatal mistake when they try to change their habits: they over-do it. They set a very difficult goal and take the drastic plunge. Many people go from never going to a gym to a goal of working out five days each week. Others decide to stop eating sweets every night to limiting themselves to one desert every two weeks. Of course many stumble, they become disappointed with their lack of will power, and they fall off the program for months on end.

When it comes to starting a new daily habit, consider not setting specific goals. I suggest keeping a tally count, with a time and date stamp, each time you “do it” or “eat it” and then review your tally weekly.

There are readily available tools that work great for this. On the iPhone, I love a little program called Tallymander (update — this program seems temporarily unavailable for some reason on AppStore — I sent the developer an email (OM)) which allows you to set up any number of tallies, then click it to record when something happens. Not only does the program keep a count but it also makes it simple to email yourself a report in a spreadsheet-ready file that includes the exact date and time you clicked on any tally. Brilliant! Tallymander is a great addition to an optimist’s technology arsenal. Of course, a tiny Moleskine booklet, making marks on your calendar, or sending yourself an email are all other efficient ways to keep your accurate log — the trick is that you must have your logging method with you at all times — in my case, my smartphone is omnipresent.

After four weeks of logging, you will notice the extraordinary magic of pale ink and optimistic, conscious thought. By simply keeping an accurate log, most people notice that they in fact start improving week-over-week without making the drastic and often unsustainable goals. The log itself becomes a motivator. The person simply gravitates to beating last week’s number by a little bit. This progress is the normal, natural gravity of the conscious mind, a sustainable way to modify one’s bad habits for the better, without all the guilt, stress, and frequent failure of “setting super hard goals and then missing them.”  The disappointment associated with letting oneself down in the hard core goals method is what often torpedoes long-term habit change success.

If you have an iPhone, download Tallymander from the Apple AppStore and start with just one item. If you eat french fries or chips, my suggestion would be track the portions that you eat — we could all afford less of both — I’m 100% sure that four weeks from today, you will eat less of this stuff and your arteries will rejoice, without the pain associated with hard-core goals.

After you focus on your first item for two or three months, your improvement becomes a good habit. Then it is time to change your tally to the next item.  If you can substitute four good habits for bad habits each year, it really adds up to serious change for the better, over ten year’s time. Most importantly, by using this tally method, your optimism grows with each success.

Logs and tallies simply work better for habit-change than hard-core goals. I personally used this method for reducing “Complaints” last year — I even enlisted my family to help point out whenever I complained a bit and faithfully recorded each event in Tallymander — in four short weeks, I was averaging less than one per day!

Nothing will make you more optimistic about life than personally getting rid of complaints. Please re-read the previous sentence twice. Imagine how different our country and the world would be if we could convince everyone in America to complain just once per day!

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 192011
 

The amount of time people are spending on social networks is extraordinary and the pace of growth and change is incredible.

Have you heard of Tumblr.com yet? You will. Check out #3 on the chart below. Tumblr, by the way, launched less than 5 years ago. Tumblr’s About page says they now have more than 50 ((implying less than 100?) employees.

Here are the estimated minutes Americans spent on social networks and blogs in May 2011, taken from Nielsen’s Social Media Report: Q3 2011.For most people, really BIG numbers are hard to get one’s mind around (or the state lottery would no longer work). In case you don’t have your calculator handy, 53.46 Million minutes at Facebook alone is more than 100,700 years of time (in one month!). Yes, this is “wow!” moment because that means Facebook will use over 1,000,000 years of American waking hours in 2011.

It is time each of us really understand the impact of social networks. I highly recommend reviewing the 12 slides presented, because social media is a tsunami that will have a tremendous effect on the future.

It has never been easier, and never been harder to become an overnight, world-wide sensation. Easy because so many interconnections exist, moving information world-wide, instantly. Hard because everybody is playing at the party, well illustrated in the theLadders.com tennis match commercial from a few year’s back that many people have seen (but if you have not, here it is).

With change, the Optimistic Few see great opportunity. See it. Understand what you can do to help. Act on it decisively. Rock the world.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. As a side note, I continually question how much time we dedicate to certain pursuits and Facebook is one of them. It fits rather nicely with my argument that one should consider avoiding most “news” sources. But, it is also clear that social networking will continue to grow exponentially, and therefore there is great opportunity for a person that understands and sees a good opportunity to succeed in the new new world.

Aug 302011
 

As we get older, we forget some simple tricks that work astonishingly well.

All my readers are familiar with my belief in the magic of pale ink. I believe that anything worth reading, anything worth remembering, anything worth doing, is worth jotting down. There is magic in making the notes.

Back in grade school, we were asked to read books and then produce book reports to summarize what we read and learned. The small effort of summarizing did wonders on our memory. Many of us could remember these first books years later.

Today, I find that when I read an interesting article, essay, or book, it is well worth jotting just a few paragraphs down in my daily journal or in an email to myself. Even jotting just a few lines helps a lot. Pale ink is magical for learning and retention. I rarely go back and look at my notes, but I find that I can remember an article far more vividly if I did take the notes than if I just read it and moved on.

Try this experiment for one month. Buy a small journal and jot down what you learned from each and every news story and book you read during those four weeks. If you are a technology lover, check out http://www.evernote.com, which basically offers unlimited notes space and is accessible from PC, Mac, or smartphone (and is free for anyone that uses it for text notes most of the time because they only charge the people that take a lot of pictures use a lot of bandwidth). I believe you will have a small revelation as to the wisdom of book reports. Pale ink is the key that unlocks a better memory.

If its worth reading, its worth remembering. Our seemingly aging memory is not as much aging, as it is overwhelmed by distractions. Pale ink helps turn the tide. A great memory leads to better ideas and a better, more optimistic life.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 012011
 

Think on paper — this concept is near religion with me.  I have found that any time I commit anything to paper (or a written file on my PC, smartphone, or tablet), I produce better stuff, clearer thinking, crisper plans.

In my productivity jedi “tools” arsenal, one of my very favorite lightsabres is Mind Meister (http://www.mindmeister.com).

Mind Meister is a mind map, which is new-fangled-speak for outlining circa 2011. Outlines are fantastic for developing a concept from a few key ideas to any finished IP (intellectual property) product, no matter if it is a white paper, thoughtful letter, powerpoint slideshow, business plan, or software specification.

The world seems to have gotten away from outlining which I believe is a mistake — outlining a project is an easy way to plan — every good carpenter measures twice before pulling out a saw… plan before diving in for better results.

What makes Mind Meister really shine in my eyes is that your mind maps are available on any networked PC or Mac, on your iPhone, or iPad. Without a doubt, the PC / Mac full screen is best, but once I have an outline in development, it is easy enough to add and edit using the iPad or even on the small screen iPhone. It is built from the ground up to collaborate — so any number of people can all add and edit a mind map together — it works very well. Mind Meister also offers methods to zap ideas directly to your account via email or micro-widget — so flashes of brilliance are not lost while ordering margaritas at your favorite Mexican cantina.

Lastly, Mind Meister offers enough export and import options to make me confident that I can save off my data in case the MM guys implode or get bought out in the future.  I’m a believer in always being prepared for Murphy’s Law.

I recommend trying Mind Meister and see if it fits your world.  The best time to try it is when you are ready to produce some IP — like the next time you need to write a paper or create a presentation for work.  Having a real project really helps a person explore the potential of any technology. They do offer a free trial. I’ve used it for almost two years and am quite happy — 8.5 out of 10 stars in my own internal rating system — I only wish they would offer an alternate “traditional outline” view for the times you would prefer to see old-style outlining instead of new-style circular mind mapping.

I.M. Optimism Man