Month: July 2008

Feeling Lost? Maybe It’s Time To Drop Anchor

Have you been feeling lost lately?  Or maybe not quite lost, but adrift… not really knowing where you’re going, or even which direction?  You can even feel this way if you know where you want to go, but are at a loss for what to do right now to get there.

It’s easy to start feeling lost or adrift when you feel like you are being pulled in too many directions at the same time.  The feelings are a trap, too… easy to fall into but hard to escape.

So if you’re feeling that way right now, what do you do?  You could start by looking at your life as a boat.  If you are in a boat and drifting without direction, what do you do to stop yourself?  You drop anchor.

An anchor in your life serves the same function as an anchor in a boat… it holds you steady against the wind and the tides.  It is something solid that you can rely on when everything else seems untrustworthy.

Life anchors are often people… someone you can trust.  It could be your spouse, your parent, your brother or sister, or your best friend.  They can also be places, places to which you can run and feel safe, or even things… some people might have a locket, a lucky coin, or even have their car as their anchor.  It can even be an activity… some people can get lost (in the good way) in something they love to do.

No matter what your situation, there will always be something, or someone, around that you can use as an anchor.  Anchors only work, however, when you hold on to them… if you dropped an anchor over the side of the boat that wasn’t attached by rope or chain, it wouldn’t do much good.  You generally start to get lost, or drift, when you forget to hold on to your anchors, though sometimes it can be when one is yanked out from under you.

If you’re feeling lost right now, here are some concrete steps you can take to stabilize your life:

  1. Focus On Where You Are Right Now

    One of the main causes of feeling lost is the feeling that you are being pulled in many directions at once.  You can combat this by concentrating on where you are right now, rather than where you are going.  It won’t cure your current state, but it can at least help you to keep it from getting worse.

  2. Find An Anchor

    Once you are focused on where you are right now, look around you and find something that you can use as an anchor… find someone some thing, some place, or some activity that makes you feel safe.  Your anchor doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, it just has to work for you.

  3.  Hold On To Your Anchor

    Once you’ve found your anchor, you have to hold on to it.  Life’s currents, the ups and downs that come constantly, can make you forget to hold on to your anchor.  As soon as you do that, though, you also start to find it harder and harder to hold steady on the course that you wish to follow.

  4. Use Your Anchor

    Finding an anchor does no good if you don’t use it… spend time with that person, or in that place, or with that thing, and let yourself feel safe.  Once you feel safe, then you can start to let go of all the mental build up, slowing your wild swinging around.

  5. Let Your Drifting Slow To A Stop

    Sometimes, when you feel progress, you want to just jump back out there and push ahead.  The same holds true with the feeling of being adrift… once you start to feel a little less stressed, you may feel the urge to push right back out.  That can be dangerous in the same way it’s dangerous to put too much weight on a recently broken bone… the surface may be healed, but it still may be a little weak underneath.  While I certainly don’t recommend that you spend the rest of your life hiding from, well, the rest of your life, I do recommend that you take the time to heal the damage that’s a little deeper, too.

I want to take a moment to reinforce the fact that your anchor doesn’t have to make sense as an anchor to anyone else… it’s about what works for you.  You may find something other people would consider bizarre that helps you… it could be a rusty nail, if that nail came from something important, or preparing meals for a crowd (working in a soup kitchen, for example).  As long as it gives you that feeling of safety and stability, even if it’s only so long as you’re doing it, holding it, or with that person, it can help.

It’s often easy to forget your anchors, or how important they are, too.  That’s a major reason relationships drift apart (see, the terminology is even the same)… the two people forget how important it is to spend time with each other, just using each other as an anchor… resting.   If you have a spouse, and they are NOT one of your anchors, you really need to work on your relationship.

You will, of course, want to reach out from your anchors, too.  But just like a routine makes you better able to appreciate and enjoy the exceptions, anchors help you to better reach out and move forward… you just have to remember to bring them with you.

The Fastest Way To Reshape Your Body

If you’re not happy with your body, chances are good that if you mention it to someone, you say you need to lose weight.  Losing weight can, of course, help, but do you honestly care what your weight is, or do you care what your body looks like?

The first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think about reshaping their body is going on a diet, a diet that either leaves them hungry all the time or drastically reduces the range of what they can eat.  While that sort of diet can work, there’s actually a way that’s much faster and more effective, a way that doesn’t leave you hungry all the time, nor deprive you of either meats or vegetables.

The fastest, safest, and most effective way to reshape your body in a short period of time involves three elements:  sleep, diet, and exercise.  It may surprise you to see sleep listed along with diet and exercise, but poor sleeping habits can considerably reduce the effectiveness of the other two factors.

I’ve covered sleep and diet in previous articles this week, so today’s article is going to be on exercise… not on specific exercises for you to do, but a general pattern for exercising effectively.

The first thing to understand is that aerobic exercise (also called “cardio”) is not the most effective tool for reshaping your body… it can certainly be one component, but an exercise plan that doesn’t cover resistance training, also known as lifting weights, will be far slower and less effective.

Let me dispel a myth quickly that I’ve heard from many people… weight training (more properly called resistance training) doesn’t have to make you big and bulky.  What it does do is sculpt your body… putting muscle in the right places while allowing that muscle to burn extra calories and remove fat from other places. 

Speaking of an exercise plan… you need one.  You need to set up a schedule for your exercise, knowing what you’re going to work on at what times.  My personal preference is to rotate upper body, lower body, and cardio.  That means that one day I’ll work out the major muscle groups of my upper body, the next day I’ll do the major muscle groups of my lower body, and the next I’ll work on my cardio (generally running on the treadmill for me).  This gives your muscles a couple of days to heal before they’re worked again.

Once you have a general plan like the one mentioned above, then you can work on plans for individual days.  You’ll need to choose a specific exercise for each muscle group that you’re going to work that day, and you’ll need to change the exercise that you use for a given muscle group fairly regularly, or your body will adjust and that particular exercise will become less and less effective for you.

You may want to start each day with a bit of a warm up… I usually jog for one mile before I really get started.

Regardless of the exercise, you’ll want to use this pattern while doing it:

  1. 12 repetitions (reps) at the original weight
  2. 1 minute break and increase the weight for the next set
  3. 10 reps at the new weight
  4. 1 minute break and increase the weight
  5. 8 reps
  6. 1 minute break and increase the weight
  7. 6 reps
  8. 1 minute break and decrease the weight
  9. 12 reps
  10. 2 minute break and move to the next exercise

You can continue that until you’ve done all the muscle groups for that day.

So how do you decide how much weight?  You should always select a weight subjectively, rather than objectively:  the first weight you use, for 12 reps, should be about a difficulty of about 6 on a 10 point scale.  The next weight should be a 7, then 8, 9, and the final set of 12 should be at a 10… in other words, you should barely be able to complete it.  Whether that’s 5 pounds, 50, or 500 doesn’t really matter… it’s the amount of effort your body is putting into it that determines how much you get out of it.

When you first begin your exercise routine, you’ll likely find that your muscles are sore the next day, and even the day after… the best cure for this soreness, believe it or not, is to lightly exercise those same muscles again, doing something like what you would do for your first set if you were working that muscle group that day.  If you avoid exercising because you’re sore, on the other hand, that soreness can last much longer.

If you keep it up, you’ll almost certainly notice a major difference in how you feel after just a few days, and it won’t take much (if any) longer for you to be able to start seeing it.  There is usually a measurable (as in tape measure) difference within 7-10 days… assuming you’re not already in top shape, of course.

I’ve personally done this before, and I intend to do it again (and soon, too!).  I did it for twelve weeks before, and in that twelve weeks I lost about 10% body fat and gained over 20 pounds of muscle.  I don’t have pictures of myself, but if you want to see pictures of other people who’ve followed the same plan (or a VERY similar one), you can check out the Body For Life Challenge champions pictures… and remember, this is in twelve weeks… less than three months!

Good luck… and feel free to send me before and after pictures if you do try it!  I may even post them if I get enough… and I might appear in that post, as well.

The Simplest Way To Improve Your Life

There’s one attribute, one piece, of your life that affects the rest of you more than anything else.  When you damage that aspect, it can damage the rest, like bringing down a building by taking out one critical support.  On the other hand, improving this one area of life can bring improvements nearly across the board, as well.

So what is this one critical thing?  What is it that affects everything else?


When you don’t sleep well your body and mind don’t get the chance to slow down and take care of repairs and construction.  That means that everything starts wearing down… everything from your thoughts to your emotions to your physical health.

There are many different ways of “not sleeping well”.  It could be a lack of sleep (probably the most common), restless sleep, or even oversleeping.  All of these things cause your body and mind to be unable to rid themselves of stress, and therefore unable to heal.

There are many symptoms, as well, and although most people will get most of the symptoms eventually, which ones show up first can vary widely from person to person.  Some people may start off by being irritable, while others may show it through depression, getting sick easily, lack of mental focus, or even difficulty getting their eyes to focus.

Whatever any given person’s early symptoms may be, they tend to be consistent for that person, meaning that if you start by getting irritable when you don’t get enough sleep, chances are pretty high that you’ll start with that symptom the next time you’re lacking in sleep, also.  That’s fortunate, because it can help you to figure out that it is, in fact, a lack of sleep that is behind it.

Sometimes not sleeping well is nearly unavoidable… when a major life-changing event is coming, when you only have a limited amount of time to do a lot of things, etc.  A limited amount of exposure to this kind of situation isn’t generally enough to start causing serious problems.  It’s when you get to be in the habit of not sleeping well that the real issues start to arise.

A persistent lack of focus can make your job (or school) performance drop to the point where it becomes dangerous… or speaking of a lack of focus being dangerous, how about when you’re driving?  Constant irritability can cause your relationships to suffer and eventually even begin to wither.  Constant stress can cause different parts of your body to start failing, often beginning with your digestive track (your stomach and your guts).

So now you know the negative side, some aspects of which you may already be dealing with, not knowing that they’re coming from your poor sleep.  What about the good side?

Getting enough good sleep can do the opposite of the negatives, helping you deal with depression, improving your focus (and mental/emotional state in general), and giving you a better outlook on life.  Those things, of course, can lead to more positives… better relationships, better performance at work getting you a better job, or even (to be drastic) keeping you from committing suicide out of your depression.

How, then, do you make sure you get enough good sleep, so you can move from the negative to the positive?

The first step is to establish a routine for sleeping.  That consists of many different pieces, the most important of which is probably the timing, but also your behavior before you go to sleep, where you sleep, and other factors that make the experience similar each night.

If you know that in general you need to get up at 5:00 AM, for example, and you need six hours of sleep each night, you might set a bed time of 10:30.  It is important to stick close to this bed time as much as possible, because your body begins preparing for sleep long before you actually get there.  Your breathing slows, your heart slows, and you may start to yawn… all of these things are preparations the body is making for sleep, so that it can get to work on repairs as soon as possible.

Going to bed at a given time helps your body know when and how much sleep it’s going to get… establishing a routine for before bed gives you a way to send a strong signal that the time for sleep is approaching.  You may, for example, choose to read for a bit prior to bed (it helps some people relax… it often has the opposite effect on me, however, if it’s a good book).  The routine can also involve much smaller things, like brushing your teeth.

It doesn’t really matter much what your routine is, as long as it’s consistent… the consistency is what teaches your body and mind that these things are a signal that the time to sleep is approaching.  There are a few exceptions, of course… a lot of physical exercise or downing a couple cups of coffee are probably not productive as part of a bed time routine.

Just because you’re an adult now doesn’t mean that you don’t need a routine and that you don’t need a bed time… you do need it in order to get the best sleep, and thereby get more out of life.

PS – This is another thing that I have to work on, and one thing I can suggest that can be very helpful to making your sleep better sleep is to take a few minutes before you lay down to have just a little quiet time to yourself, allowing the day’s events to come up and be mentally looked at, then let go.  This simple process can, if practiced regularly, drastically improve the quality of whatever amount of sleep you get.

The Secret To Weighing Less Is Eating More

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  The secret to weighing less is eating more?  It’s true, however.

Of course I don’t mean you should eat more food, I mean you should eat more often.  Many people eat only one or two meals per day… few indeed eat more than three.  The optimum, however, is actually five or six.

Your body is designed to have food intake every three to four hours that you are awake.  This doesn’t mean you eat the equivalent of a full dinner every few hours, though… you should, instead, have a portion of meat and a portion of vegetables.

What is a portion?  A portion is an amount of food about the size of your palm.  Easy enough to figure out, right?  You don’t even need to read the nutritional labels for that!

It does, of course, matter what meat and vegetables you eat… leaner meat and vegetables that are lower in sugar are better.  Men should keep in mind, however, that animal fat is an important part of testosterone production, so going ultra-low fat can be counterproductive.

There are two major reasons that eating like this helps you lose weight.  The first is that your body automatically goes into starvation mode after not eating for a while, setting itself up to conserve all energy from the next meal you consume.  The second is that keeping your body fed keeps it from craving sugary and fatty foods, which it mostly wants because it thinks it needs to store energy for the times when it is “starving”.

As you get into eating more often, you’ll find that it’s hard to eat as often per day as you should, both because you get tired of eating so often and because of the sheer amount of time involved.  That’s when you can turn to protein bars and shakes.  These are easy (though sometimes slightly more expensive than more “regular” food) and quick, but still provide the protein and other nutrients that you need.

If you go to a nutrition store to purchase the bars and shakes you’ll find that there is an incredible variety in brands and flavors.  What you’ll want to look at besides that, though, is the nutritional label.  If you want something satisfying, you’re probably going to be looking for something with at least 20 grams of protein (30 is better), and as little fat and sugar as you can find (fiber is fine, sugar is bad).  You can also look at the additional things some of them will have, such as vitamins and minerals, or body building supplements such as creatine.

Speaking of body building, an essential part of losing weight in a healthy way is exercise.  You already know that… what you may not know is that the best way to lose fat and look better is NOT cardio workouts.  Weight training is much more effective, as muscle mass burns calories even while you’re just sitting around.

Weight training doesn’t have to make you big and bulky, though, for those of you who are worried about such things.  You can, of course, get that way, but simply lifting weights doesn’t automatically make you that way (in fact, it takes quite a bit of work for most people).  Even for girls who just want to slim down weight training is more effective than aerobics… especially because aerobics simply makes you smaller while retaining your current “shape”, while weight training can actually reshape your body.

There you have it in a nutshell… if you want to weigh less, eat more!

The Importance Of Routine

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Variety is the spice of life”, right?  Even if you’ve never heard it before, if you stop and think about it for a moment, you’ll understand the meaning behind it… it’s the things that stand out that make life fun and interesting.

Variety is important… but so is the routine that makes it stand out.  Your body learns from routine (so does your mind, actually, but we’ll concentrate on the body for now).  It learns when it is time to sleep, along with how much to sleep, when, what, and how much to eat, and many other things that you likely consider subconscious, and out of your conscious mind’s control.

When you lack a routine (Guilty!) , and your life is essentially chaotic, it takes a toll on your body.  You start sleeping poorly and become tired all day, and even sleepy at less than optimum times.  Your diet likely starts to suffer as your body tries to compensate for the unpredictable demands on it, and starts craving more sugar because of the interference with your sleeping patterns.

You’ll also find that you seem to have less and less time in the day to get things done.  Because nothing is planned and nothing is routine, you lose time both because you can’t be as efficient (there can be little planning ahead when you don’t know what’s coming) and because you have to keep taking the time to choose what to do next.  Eventually it starts to seem as if you have no time to do anything, even though you have exactly the same amount as everyone else who IS getting things done.

Variety also starts to lose its flavor to where it takes more and more for you to feel like you’re having a good time, like what you are doing is fun, enjoyable, and really what you want to be doing.  All the little things that you haven’t done because you let go of the routine start bothering you, hanging about at the back of your mind and draining you bit by bit.

You can alleviate all of this, and make your life more enjoyable, by establishing a routine.  That doesn’t mean that everything in your day has to be the same every day, it just means establishing certain patterns, and sticking with them the majority of the time.  Establishing specific times to eat (or specific intervals between eating), for instance, can help you improve your diet, which often also improves your mood.  Establishing a bed time can also help to improve your sleep, as your body can become adjusted to going to sleep at that time, and therefore start preparing beforehand.  Times in a routine don’t have to be set down to the minute… approximate is good enough.  Dinner could be at 6:30 PM, give or take 15-30 minutes (or your interval could be eating every 3.5 hours, give or take 15-30 minutes), and bed time could have the same sort of range (ie 10:15 is close enough to 10:00 to still be accepted as part of a routine).

Establishing your new routine can be difficult, at first.  It can feel confining, which may make you want to rebel.  It also requires conscious effort until it becomes established habit, which can take two or three weeks.  During this time of change, you may feel even more stressed than when you had a routine… precisely because it’s a change.  If you stick with it, however, you should start noticing a difference within a couple weeks… and then eventually you’ll stop noticing the difference, because that’s how your mind and body work.

If you want to try this, but don’t want to try to reorganize your entire life at once, the change with the most impact is probably setting a bed time.  The amount and quality of your sleep can drastically affect nearly every other aspect of your life.  The second most effective thing to make routine is your eating… this will tend to cut down on your cravings for unhealthy food, as well as the negative effects of eating too much or too little at a time.  Other things which are good to make part of your routine but can wait until later are things like exercise, laundry, dishes, and anything else which needs done every, or nearly every, day.

If you have children, having a standard routine in your life is even more important, as they are more sensitive to such things than adults.  Having set times to eat, sleep, and even play (especially if that set time to play is a set time to play with you) can make massive improvements in their behavior… which can make massive improvements in your mood.

This article is not suggesting, by the way, that you never vary from the routine… far from it.  Exceptions to the routine are likely to be what you remember long down the road… but there must be a routine before those exceptions are noticeable.  It doesn’t hurt anything that the routine can help you clear out stress and give you more energy (through improved diet and sleep) to enjoy those exceptions, either.

So, in closing… don’t make everything in your life routine, but do try to establish some routines.  It’s very draining and damaging to your mind and emotions when either everything, or nothing, is planned.

PS – This is something that I, personally, plan on working toward… it’s been quite some time since I had much routine or pattern in my life, and it’s time I got some back.  Except for my trip to Vegas next month 😉