[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How To Upgrade Your Life Overnight

You can improve your life dramatically in multiple areas with nearly instantaneous results by change just one thing. I'm talking about enhancing your energy level, boosting your fat-burning metabolic rate, supercharging mental creativity, extending patience with others, broadening your sense of humor, making it easier to be more spiritually holy--even increasing your memory capacity.

One change can literally do all that--and a bit more. I'm completely serious.

All of these elements of your life depend on the quality and quantity of your sleep. Change how you handle that part of your day and you will instantaneously change your life.

Certainly, there's more to being creative or being patient with others, for example, than just sleep. But your sleep does set a ceiling for all these areas. Think about it.

When you are thoroughly exhausted, it's very hard to do life well. But it goes beyond that. Many, many of us have forgotten what being truly rested feels like. The vast majority of us have trained ourselves to expect a life lived with less sleep than we actually required. In fact, it only takes about 2-3 weeks of consistent living to cause your brain to settle on a new "normal". It will then stop complaining about the sleep it's missing. That doesn't mean it doesn't need that sleep. It just learns to stop complaining about it--to stop sending the signals that demand more sleep or else.

(Our brains are phenomenally adaptive. We underestimate this capacity in so many ways--but that's a whole other post or two.)

Scientists have done many sleep studies that put volunteers in a room without windows, clocks, watches, etc. They are provided with entertainments, food, etc--just nothing that let's them know what time it is. The idea is to see how people sleep when the only boundaries come from their body. Among the many things learned, every single participant says at the end, "I had no idea what it was like to truly feel rested! I haven't felt this good in a very long time."

How much of life are you missing out on? How long has is been since you fully and deeply slept? When did you train your body to stop complaining and tough it out?

Buy a better bed. Seriously. You spend more time on your bed than anywhere else in your life. It doesn't seem that way since you're mostly unconscious while you're there. But it's the most used and most important furniture or appliance item in your house. As one of my mentors says, "Buy the most expensive bed your conscience will allow you to buy." It's worth it.

By the way, there are some really great ways to avoid paying full price on name brand beds, but still upgrading your sleep dramatically. For example, you could put a memory foam bed topper on your normal mattress instead of buying a new memory foam bed ($170 instead of $1,500).

Sleep more. Many people talk about 8 hours of sleep as ideal. But sleep studies show that the ideal length of sleep for 95% of people is just over 9 hours of sleep. Oh, and studies also reveal that sleep loss is cumulative. So if you miss a few hours here and there, you can literally catch up by sleeping a few hours longer on the weekend.

Of course, if you wait too long--2 to 3 weeks for most people--your brain gives up trying to recover and creates a new normal. For some of you, it may take you 2-3 weeks to retrain your brain to get used to sleeping properly. That was also in all the sleep studies--everyone goes through a readjustment period where they slowly learn to sleep a full night again.

Studies of school children showed that for every 15 min of extra sleep, on average, those students earned a grade letter higher. Some high schools in America have are now starting an hour later (expressly to give their kids more sleep) and have seen overall grades jump . Even thirty minutes more sleep will make a difference in your life.

But I don't have time to sleep more! I've got too much to do! (Sound familiar?) However, if you're more rested, you'll not only enjoy your life more, but you'll get more done faster. If your life and job require thinking at all, you'll be more productive. Trust me, I've tried this and it works.

Live Within Your Natural Sleep Cycle. Sleep studies have shown that there are three basic sleep patterns and that they we are all wired with one, much like a personality type: the morning people, the mid-day people, and the night people. Sleeping at the time of day your body prefers will give you higher quality sleep.

Which type are you? Well, you can force yourself to live in any pattern you want. Your job or family life might push you into a particular pattern. But think about what you're like on vacation--when the restrictions are removed. Think about how you sleep when you are fully rested.

Morning people wake up, their brain at full speed, around 5-6am. (Again, think about when you're rested, if you're sleep deprived then it doesn't matter what your natural cycle is, you'll wake up tired.) Their brain is on fire until about 11am, then they are ready for bed around 8-9pm.

Mid-day people, when rested and without any external pressure, like to wake up around 7-8am. Their brain is juiced until about 12-1pm, and they want to go to bed around 10-11pm.

Night people like to wake up around 10-11am. Their brain hits it's daily top speeds around 9pm-1am and they want to go to sleep around 2-3am.

This one is more challenging. You can't always tell your boss or your two year old, "I'm sorry, my natural sleep cycle means I don't have to wake up right now." But any movement you can make to align with your natural cycle will have a big impact with the quality of your sleep--even if you get the same amount of sleep.

Oh, and about 10% of people are morning people, 70% of people are mid-day people, and 20% are night  owls.

Take Afternoon Naps. 95% of us need an afternoon nap around 3:00-3:30pm. (The Spanish and Italians afternoon siestas are totally right.) We just train ourselves to ignore that natural lull and push through it. NASA requires its astronauts to take naps when on mission. They did a study that showed a 26 min afternoon nap improved performance--mental and physical--over 30%. Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson both took afternoon naps. (Churchill napped on huge leather couch in his office and Wilson, when he was President of the US, had a nap room next to the oval office and actually changed into full pajamas every afternoon!)

It's hard to find the time for this--I can't do this regularly. But when I have had the chance, I can always feel a huge mental boost. I have even reserved a conference room at work, gone in there and turned the lights off. Then I've laid on the floor for 20 minutes and set my phone's alarm. Or I've gone to my car and turned on the A/C--again with a timer for 20 minutes.

Get Your Sleep Analyzed. There are multiple ways to evaluate your sleep patterns. You can discuss your sleep with your doctor. There are clinics that you go spend the night in and get evaluated while you sleep. And there are devices you can wear at home when you sleep, including the Zeo headband that talks to your smart phone http://www.myzeo.com/sleep/ (prices start as low as $99 for the equipment).

If you are still thoroughly exhausted after sleeping what should be enough, don't ignore what could be a real medical issue. I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you what symptoms to look for. But I can tell you that in college, one of my roommates discovered he had sleep apnea. It's a condition where you wake back up almost as soon as you fall asleep, dipping in and out of light sleep. You're sleeping, but never deeply. It's a life-crushing condition. Weight gain, mental exhaustion, emotional stress...so much of our lives depend on good sleep.

I had lunch with a friend just a couple of weeks ago and he told me that he'd discovered only recently that he had sleep apnea as well. When he got diagnosed and treated (you can treat it and get real sleep again), his wife said it was like getting her husband back.

Want to change your life  overnight? Get more and better sleep. I know of very little else that can have such a powerful impact on so many things. Don't overlook this crucial aspect of your life. How much of life are you missing out on? What kind of energy and weight loss and relationships are you leaving on the table, so to speak, all because you've trained yourself to expect less sleep than you actually need?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Took A Deep Dive & Came Up With A New Book

I haven't posted in a little while. Sorry about that. I couldn't post, though. I took a deep dive this week. No, unfortunately that didn't include any scuba gear--or even water.

I picked a large project and dedicated a big chunk of time only to that. No distractions. No multi-tasking. I did a deep dive into something that really matters to me.

And I made huge progress.

It's far too easy in our always-connected world to put off doing what's truly important and spend the day responding to the more urgent, but less important things. We can get so caught up in what Steven Covey called the tyranny of the urgent that we let the important things slide.

That great new idea for making your work project better, but haven't had time to write it all down. That special trip with your family that you just haven't gotten around to planning yet. Or scheduling in the time to grow yourself and not just keep working...none of them are due today. None of them are jumping in your face.

Not like the hundreds of beeps, dings, rings, and daily tasks that come at us all day long. Those are demanding. And it's a lot easier to just deal with them--to respond. It's hard to ignore all that noise and stay focused on the important, but not urgent things.

I'm not anti-technology. I had a conversation last night with a friend of mine who has family in Egypt. Our ability to talk, even video chat, all over the world at any time of the day is amazing. It's a real blessing. And I run my life with electronic calendars and to-do lists. I think it's a great way to live.

But if you want to take your productivity to the maximum level, you have to set aside time for a deep dive. Peter Drucker said that real thinking work requires at least ninety minutes and at best three to four hour chunks of time. No distractions. No interruptions. Serious chunks of time focused on really important things.

I've found that I can get more done in a three hour deep dive than I can in ten thirty-minute windows. But you don't have to stop at three hours. This week I dove deeper than I ever have, curious to see if it would work.

I took four days off and went to a secluded lake house a mentor of mine graciously let me use. I brought groceries, turned off my cell phone, and for fifteen hours a day worked on my second book. I came in with only an outline and left with a finished rough draft. I didn't leave the house for four days, didn't read a book, didn't turn on the TV...I only ate, exercised, slept, and wrote (and I only wrote the book--obviously no blogging).

I've never dedicated that much time to only one project. And I've never made that much progress so fast. It took me four years to finish my first book, writing in 30 minute chunks in the mornings. I've got a lot of editing to do, so I'm not done yet. But this ultra-deep dive accomplished what could have taken me over a year to do, if I'd have only picked away at it like before.

What are the important things in your life you've been putting off? When can you dedicate 90 minutes to it? Three hours? Is there something so crucial that you'd give it three days? What are you waiting for?

Dive deep, and who know what you might find?

Monday, September 10, 2012

3 Reasons Why I Want To Be A BMW

I recently read a book about BMW (recommended by the Executive VP of Marketing at Chick-fil-A). While technical details were included, it was mostly about their brand strategy--the thinking behind the choices they made, from the technical choices to the marketing and leadership decisions.

I've always thought highly of BMW in general (who doesn't?), but the more I learned the more I've come to see their approach as a great metaphor for living well--at least the way I'd like to define a great life for me.

1. BMW is audacious in their aspiration. (BMW calls their cars the Ultimate Driving Machine.) I think an audacious approach to life helps me keep reaching and growing. I'd love to an Ultimate Living Machine.

2. BMW aims for both understated exterior appearance and best in the world actual performance (in their main line of cars, not the roadsters like the Z4 where they add the razzle-dazzle). Their cars have smooth lines, but not a flashy look. I love the idea of building world class internal elements (my thinking, attitude, character, skills, etc) and yet exercising restraint in my "exterior style" (dressing in the latest fashions or trying to impress people with my grown-up toys). There are many cars who have all the latest bells and whistles in the extra features, but whose engines are unreliable . I'd like to be the opposite of that.

3. BMW defines car performance different than a typical American car company (BMW comes from Germany). Most American car companies value how fast you can go from 0-60 mph in a straight line. BMW more cares about how fast you can go from 60-0 mph, or how fast you can go around a corner and keep the car low and tight on the road. Oh, and they're designed so the car feels smooth and as easy to control at 60 mph and at 160 mph (they do have the autobahn in Germany, remember). They even have an algorithm in the car computer that changes how much the steering wheel turns the tires the faster you go so your feeling of control stays constant. In my life, I don't want to merely run fast and hard--charging at the world. I'd love to live a life that is more responsive to change. I want to be as mature and gently responsive whether the pressure on me is low or very, very high.

In short, I'd like to drive he road of life as a BMW.

What kind of car are you more like? What kind of car would you like to build towards becoming? Why?

Oh, and the book is called Driven: Inside BMW, the Most Admired Car Company in the World by David Kiley.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Books That Could Change Your Life

I read a ton (mostly audio books while I drive, actually) and I get asked frequently about the books I'd recommend others to read. So I have a list (that regularly is updated as I read more, of course). So, if you're looking for a book that could change the way you think or live, here's a list of books that could do that for you.

Important Note: I don’t agree with all of the conclusions or perspectives of these authors. Many of them have a very different worldview than I do. But all of these books are 1) well written/engaging to read, and 2) very thought provoking/mind stretching.

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
 (wisdom and decision making)
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Talent Is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin
Brain Rules by John Medina
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Influencer by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, and Ron McMillan
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Drive by Daniel Pink
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (parenting)
The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
Leadership & Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Boundaries by Henry Cloud & John Townsend
Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster (Christian living)
The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina (parenting)
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Great by Choice by Jim Collins
How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins
Mastery by George Leonard
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
The Sir Winston Method by James C. Humes (on communication skills, but out of print & hard to find)
Secrets of Dynamic Communication by Ken Davis
Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Glimmer: How design can transform your life, and maybe even the world by Warren Berger
Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni
Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated by Timothy Ferriss
The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley
The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman
Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute
Strategic Intuition by Bill Duggan
Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell
Freakanomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
Being Wrong by Kathryn Schultz
Story by Robert McKee
John Adams (biography) by David McCullough
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Sacred Marriage (Christian marriage)
Sacred Parenting (Christian parenting)
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (for those who are writers/thinkers/creative professionals)