4 Habits for a Highly Effective February

FebruaryWritingFebruary has always been my favorite month. While the weather is not nearly aMAYzing as May (unless you live in the southern hemisphere). February has a not-so secret superpower that makes it the best month ever to start new habits. (Drumroll) It’s short.

I like to call February the small month, but the length of it isn’t its only power. February is awesome because it is no longer the new year; therefore, the pressure of not messing up your fancy resolutions is off. Plus, the days are getting longer, which is a sure sign to your soul that you WILL survive winter.

We’ve all heard that it takes “21 days” to make a new habit stick (or to kick a bad one). While it turns out that this magic number is actually more of a motivational marketing tool than real science, its foundation is factual: To form new habits we need to conduct repeated action consistently over time. It may take you 21 days, it may take you 200 days. For me, I like to believe the magic number is 28, and this is why February is the best habit making month around. Oh, and this year the universe has given us a bonus day just to make sure whatever we’re trying to achieve sticks.

If you want to join me for a habit forming February, the formula is pretty simple. First, you’ve got to pick the thing you’re going to work on, then you do it today, and repeat it tomorrow (or according to whatever schedule you choose). It isn’t magic, but you can build habits that stick.

Here’s 4 habit building tips I’m putting into practice this month:

1. Be Specific and Actionable

Start with something very easy and exact to measure. Less of get in better shape, and more of complete one month of the 100 pushup challenge. Less quit eating junk food and more of eat something green at every meal.

I’ll personally be working on writing this month. It’s my favorite February challenge because I can do it in the morning in my warm bed when it’s cold. More specifically the habit I’m working on is to commit my time in the early morning to get my most important work done. Less waking up checking Facebook on my phone. More waking up to completing one written work every day.

2. Be Consistent

The most important thing you have to do to create a new habit is to show up everyday to your action. You did it yesterday; you do it today; and, yep, tomorrow too.

I like to think about it like the star chart that hung on the wall in my elementary school classroom—the one where you got a gold star for everyday you completed a certain task or had good behavior. You had to complete the task every day to get the star. Habits are like this, you have to reset everyday while you’re building them. Make your own star chart for February if it will help you. Even as an adult they are oddly motivating—I’ve made one every time I’ve trained for a marathon. Consistency works.

3. Be Nice to Yourself

We often fail at habits because we inevitably screw up, miss out target, and then quickly determine we’re never going to be successful so why bother. While consistency is key, you also have to lean the art of giving yourself grace.

If you have a bad day and accidentally eat a chocolate sundae for dinner instead of kale salad, move on. You aren’t going to die and your goal doesn’t have to die either. Wake up tomorrow and drink a kale smoothie for breakfast. Resets are okay, just try not to use them everyday. (See point 2).

It’s also okay to do something awesome for yourself to keep motivated along the way. I like to buy flowers when I’ve successfully completed a week of gold stars. Massages work well to motivate me too.

4. Tell Someone You’re Doing It

Misery loves company—so does successful habit making. Tell a friend about your goal, write a blog post and tell everyone you’re going to write this month, and then you don’t have any excuses!

I’ve recently convinced 3 friends to download the 100 pushup app because I want to do more pushups. Sure, I want all my friends to have great arms, but mostly, I know that I’m more likely to be consistent if someone else is going to ask me how my habit-making is coming.

Don’t have any friends who would think this is normal? That’s not a good enough excuse. You’re welcome to tell me.

So, Happy February.

You’ve got 29 days to something great. What’s it going to be?

Capture the Things that Move You

w4gcapture - 1I have a love hate relationship with my smart phone and my computer. One minute I want to hurl them both off a cliff, and then two minutes later, I accidentally drop one of them or forget one in a restaurant, and my breath gets caught in my throat, and I suddenly feel like my life is going to end.

There are lots of reasons to hate the technology that surrounds us every moment of every day. But, then again, there are lots of reasons to love it too. Maybe you’re firmly in one camp? Or maybe you straddle the technology lover/hater line like I do.

I love that technology allows me to live an untethered life. That my work can travel. That I can literally have an office wherever my laptop can go, and I can easily stay connected to the people I love. I wrote Upgrade Unlocked while eating pad thai in the street in Bangkok. I’ve written thousands of words from 37,000 feet in the sky. I’ve Facetimed into family holiday gatherings from far aways squares in Cambodia and Colombia. I’ve even been known to hike into the forest with my computer and my hammock when I need to get away to a “quiet” office to think. I’ve been able to build the life I have because the world is more connected than ever.

Yet, sometimes I miss the days when my computer was as big as the desk it sat on, and there was no chance that I’d ever try to pack it in my carryon for a trip around the world. I miss the days when a vacation was a vacation, when you checked out paper books from the library, and going out with friends included more time spent in deep conversations than in checking in and live posting every moment from the evening on instagram or snapchat. I miss the days when my friends were in my neighborhood and stopped by for a cup of coffee rather than liking the picture of my coffee in my social feeds.

As my new year has been starting out, I’ve been contemplating this paradox. I want to make sure I’m living fully in the real-life present, and using technology as a tool to capture the memories I want to keep, rather being captive to them–living tethered to my phone and awarded for my loyalty with notifications of pavlovian likes.

This year, I will choose to be at my sister’s wedding, rather than live stream it to Facebook. I will choose to share dinner conversation with my friends rather than posting the play by play demolition of our magnificent four course kale salad on instagram.

I will be present in the moments.

I will capture the moments that move me.

I will share memories.

I will not make memories for the sake of sharing.

 

If you don’t see me online every minute of every day this year, don’t worry. I haven’t died. It’s just a sign that, I have rather chosen to live, a little differently.

I hope you will join me. I think we’ll all be a little happier this way.

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7 Lessons from 7 Continents: Asia + Worldview

A single phrase, commonly heard across Southeast Asia, sums up the biggest lesson that six years on this continent taught me: “Same, same, but different.” 

After my first dream trip to Europe and the consequential discovery of travel’s possibility, it didn’t take me long to figure out how to venture even further afield. Within a few months I had signed up for a summer exchange program in China.

At 19, I’d not yet been anywhere in the “developing” world, I’d never heard the phrase “culture shock”, and I had no idea at all what to expect in China in 1994 (way before the Olympics and Starbucks came to Beijing). To say I was fresh-faced and unprepared is an understatement. 

My very first memory in Asia was the van ride from the airport to the town where I’d be spending the summer. For the first hours we made our way through endless rice fields across the rural countryside. I stared out the window in amazement spotting farmers in bamboo hats and water buffalo.  It was all one big, wondrous moving picture.  And then it got dark.

The sun set, the sky turned black, and we kept driving into the night. Oddly, however, the driver didn’t turn on the headlights. We were flying through the streets into the pitch black, and every minute or two the driver would honk the horn to let people (and presumably the water buffalo) know he was on the road.

Every few minutes he’d flash the hi-beams to make sure the road was clear ahead, but apart from those split seconds, the stars and moon were our only light. I shut my eyes and prayed that we get there alive, and chalked this up as kind of dangerous—and insane.

In the next days, I quickly realized that most things I would experience on my first trip to China felt insane to me. The things I was served for dinner—what? The hole in the ground that was the toilet—no way! The way everyone spit on the ground in public—eew! The number of students crammed into a dorm—how do they live like this? And the endless search and bargain for every day necessities—really? Where is the mall?

Everything was different, I was overwhelmed, and my western mindset immediately went into overdrive considering how I could fix all of these obviously broken things.

As a new traveler, I had not yet acquired the skill to see “same, same but different”, in what appeared to be a total logic free zone.

I didn’t master this skill on that trip to China. In fact, I can’t even say that I’m always able to maintain this perspective after having lived on the continent for many years.

But Asia has taught me a few lessons about viewing the world through the wisdom of eyes that strive to recognize the same and appreciate the different.

1. Look at the intention rather than the action

While I’ll never be a fan of driving across rural China (or anywhere else) in the pitch dark without headlights, it turns out the driver had a reason.

Headlights in rural China in 1994 were very difficult to replace. By using his light sparingly and relying on his knowledge of the road, the driver was ensuring that he’d have some light long term. His intention was to drive safely–even when it felt like the most dangerous thing in the world to me.

When we’re new to a culture (or even a confusing situation in our own culture), there are always things happening behind the scenes we aren’t seeing. Rather than observing actions we don’t understand and immediately filing them under “These People Are Nuts,” ask some questions, discover the intention. You’ll be able to respond with understanding rather than react in frustration.

2. Compare to learn, not to teach

It is not our job to fix everything that appears to be broken. In fact, everything we think is broken, is not. It’s amazing what we’ll learn by approaching situations in life and travel as students rather than know-it-all’s.

Worldview operates similarly to two people in their early years of marriage—we all think we’re the one who is right in most situations, and that life would function better if the other person would just adapt and do things our way. 

What if we compared cultures and points of view in search of good instead of gaps? We’d probably recognize a lot of what make us the same, same- the need for love, family, opportunity, acceptance, well-being, and dignity.

I’m pretty sure we’d make all of our worlds better.

3.  Be open to view your own world as an outsider

My first year in Asia, I spent a lot of energy fixating on all the things that were different and unusual to me. It wasn’t until I had been living there for a while that I finally realized that most people around me thought I was actually the most different and unusual one.

The ability to see yourself and view your own world through the eyes of others is eye opening. You may actually realize that many of the things you do may not actually make sense.

If you’re new to this concept and want to practice seeing your own world from an outside perspective, start a conversation with a taxi driver.  By some strange universal law, most subjects that are taboo at dinner tables around the world are completely appropriate in taxis—politics, religion, relationships, and everything the driver believes is wrong with your country.

I used to think it was only other countries that were absolutely bizarre, and now I’m beyond convinced that the U.S. is pretty bizarre in its own right. (If you don’t believe me, take an afternoon off of work and watch some American Reality TV).

Being able to view your own world through the objective outlook of another is a powerful tool in relationship building. It’s as powerful as learning to laugh at yourself.

Asia challenged me with a little humility and a lot of frustration, but eventually showed me that our one world wouldn’t be nearly as amazing or colorful without so many different world views to keep things interesting. Learning to reconcile the different as different changed me. 

I wish you the same, same. 

PS.  Don’t forget to check out the lessons I learned on the other 6 continents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens in Vegas can Change Your World

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but that’s not always true. Sometimes what happens in Vegas changes your whole world.

I don’t come to Las Vegas often. Today I’m here because an 18 hour stopover saved me 400$ on a plane ticket. Two years ago I came on a travel hacking adventure to see how many different hotels I could stay at in a long weekend, and 18 years ago I made a trip to Vegas that changed my life. 

Walking down the street today, I was thinking about that first trip I took to Vegas, and what I could share if I wrote a story about it. The first lesson that popped into my head was the familiar quote–“Leap and the net will appear.” 

“That’s so cliché, and you’re supposed to be writing your 7 Lessons from 7 Continents story this week, not a nearly two-decade-old story about Vegas,” the critic and control freak inside my head said. 

And just as I had this thought, a person dressed in a Spiderman costume leaped out in front of me from behind a building. Although Spiderman is more about webs than nets, I took that as a confirmation from the universe that this week you are supposed to be hearing the lesson of how Las Vegas taught me to leap into the unknown world of my dreams.

My first trip to Vegas was in 1997. I was a budding account executive at a high tech PR agency and visiting Sin City to manage media interviews at my very first big tradeshow. Even though I secretly hated many parts of my first real job and had been actively exploring other opportunities, I’d prepared for the show for months and was excited to go. And then unexpectedly, five days before I left for Vegas, I got offered my first international job in Thailand. And they needed me to be there to start in exactly four weeks.

I was in a conundrum. I knew if I quit my job, I’d miss out on the career opportunity of managing the project in Vegas. If I said no to the opportunity to go to Asia, I knew I’d always regret it.  So, I decided to contrive a plan to do both.

Here’s what happened and the lessons of leaping that I learned from the process: 

1. Accept the Offer

Staying at the agency was easy to envision and it was a safe career path. Going to Thailand was a whole sea of mystery, but I was enticed by the adventure and the possibility. I had no idea what to do, so I said YES.

I’m not advocating for leaping blindly into everything that comes you way, but sometimes you have to start with the yes even when you don’t understand every detail that comes with an offer. Some people like to wait until they have all of their ducks in a row before taking action, but if you’re waiting on the ducks to sort themselves out, it is never going to happen. I’m certainly not an ornithologist, but I’ve never once seen a flock of ducks waddling around in a line. Listen to your gut and say, “hell, yes!” when the offer you’ve been day-dreaming about in your cubicle knocks on your door. Only dead ducks hang out in rows. 

2. Put Things in Motion

Remember our lesson on the laws of physics and the laws of possibility? You need an action to get the process going.

I accepted the job in Thailand, and I got on the plane to Vegas. I was in motion. I needed to finish my project well, and find a way to be in Asia in four weeks.

I spent the next four days in the Las Vegas Convention Center managing media interviews and sneaking away to use the payphone in the hallway every time I had a break. I studied airline listings in the yellow pages, dialed the toll-free numbers for international reservations agents, and put tickets on hold until I had figured out the best and cheapest ways to get to Bangkok. 

In the unassuming lobby of the convention center, surrounded by swarms of corporate conference attendees labeled with large-font name badges, I successfully arranged my escape plan. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. My colleagues thought I really loved Vegas.

3. Pull the Trigger

Once you’re in motion, it’s much easier to gain the speed you need to do the more difficult tasks.

I returned from Las Vegas with a successful media trip under my belt and a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia in my pocket with a departure date just 16 days away. Since I had to give two weeks notice at my job, I had no choice but to walk straight into my boss’ office and let him know that I was leaving.

My immediate supervisor was amazing and told me to follow my dreams. The boss who ran the agency, however, told me in a few words that he wasn’t surprised at all, and I didn’t have what it takes to be successful in the field of PR and communications. I was too young and polite to tell him to F*&@ off, but I knew at this moment that I was making the right play, and that saying yes to this opportunity would be one of the most important decisions I’d ever make for my long-term career success. 

4. Dance

After you pull the trigger, you’ve got to jump all in. It’s like dancing, once you’ve taken a step away from the security of watching from the sidelines, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got—even if you’re worried about looking a fool. You have more to gain than you have to loose.

The 16 days between quitting my job and packing up my life to move to Thailand were a blur, but one moment remains crystal clear. As I waved goodbye to my friends in the airport and turned to walk down the jetway, I remember in slow motion taking the step over the threshold between the airport and onto the plane. 

“What if this is the biggest mistake of my life,” the scared part of me hesitated in that split second.

“The worst case scenario is that you absolutely hate it, and then you buy a ticket and fly home,” the brave and more rational part of me responded.

That step onto the plane was an important one, and the next years included a lot more steps forward, sideways and backwards—all part of the dance.

I’ve done more than my share of tripping and stepping on peoples’ toes in the last 18 years, but not a single part of me regrets jumping into the unknown and the path that my leap landed me upon. Life is less risky if you stand still, but you’ll never live your dreams if you aren’t willing to fumble around on the dance floor.

Your story probably won’t contain a payphone, convention center hallway, or even a big fat book of yellow pages, but I’m sure it will contain conundrums, controversy and courage. I wish you well as you take your leap, and promise from the other side that you most certainly won’t regret it.

Viva Las Vegas.

 

 

7 Lessons from 7 Continents: Europe + Possibility

I didn’t grow up traveling. In fact, I didn’t even grow up believing that international travel was an option for me. 

The family of my childhood defined travel as road-tripping from Pennsylvania to Florida twice a year. Our “vacation” ritual including driving down the I-95 corridor, sitting on the beach, and stopping by Disney World to have breakfast with Mickey Mouse.

Each year when we made the pilgrimage to the sunshine state, my highlight was getting to ride “It’s a Small World”, my favorite Magic Kingdom ride, over and over again. It was as if somewhere deep in my DNA I already knew that my soul was destined for something bigger than the Eastern Seaboard.

As I grew older, I knew the world was out there, but it never felt accessible. As a student of French in high school, I used to think, “If I could only get to Paris once before I die, my life will be complete.”

Travel was in my heart, but it wasn’t in my practice. 

As a sophomore in college, I got my chance and set out on what I believed at the time was going to be my once in a lifetime adventure of studying and traveling in Europe. I was young and impressionable, but I had no idea how much this trip was going to change my whole perspective on the world.

Possibility was biggest lesson I learned during the five months I spent in Europe on my first trip abroad. Getting across the ocean to a place I’d never been was a high hurdle, but once I reached a new continent, being there was easy and the opportunities felt endless.

While I’m not very scientific, one of the laws of physics presented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687 and memorized by most of us in eighth grade science, teaches this:

A body at rest will remain at rest until an outer force is applied to it to cause motion.

For the first time in my life, this opportunity allowed me to experience what it was like to see travel from the “in motion” perspective, rather than from the sidelines of something I hoped to do someday.

Once I was in the UK, Paris felt possible. Once I was in Paris, Spain and Italy and Austria were all right there too. And if you’re in Austria, why not pop over into Prague?

Law #2: An object in motion remains in motion. 

There’s no way I would have ever even thought to travel from my Alabama college town to Czechoslovakia during the fall of communism as an 18 year old, but once I was already so close, and the possibility was dangled in front of me, it didn’t feel difficult or crazy at all (although I didn’t tell my parents until after I did it).

I had discovered both motion and possibility, and the powerful combination of these forces changed my entire trajectory.

It was a big lesson for me, but the lesson for all of us is this: Whether you travel or not, living in that sweet spot where motion and possibility meet is the key to whatever you want to accomplish.

You want to experience the possibility of the world? It’s not going to happen by sitting on your couch and watching the travel channel. Buy a plane ticket. (Or learn how to go places for free)

You want to experience the freedom and possibility of working for yourself? Change careers? Move to a new place? (Or fill in your own dream here) Whatever desire you have–it isn’t going to happen until you put action into your intention.

Making your dreams come true is a possibility. And once you’ve committed your feet to motion, I’m sure you’ll be surprised how much more in the world is out there beyond what you’ve ever imagined.

It’s a small world after all.

Travel is our Teacher

Travel is a very wise teacher. She has taught me more lessons than all of the combined professors and instructors I’ve sat before in a lifetime of classrooms. 

It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you travel, I can promise that if and when you choose to step out into her school to see the world, you will learn lessons.

When I took my first international trip in 1993, I remember being confronted with a quote which I carefully transcribed into the crisp blank pages of my very first blue and green plaid covered travel journal. It read:

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

It has been 22+ years since I first heard those words, and looking back, it’s crazy to me that travel has officially consumed more than half of my life. While it’s easy to count the countries and continents to which I’ve traveled and to tally the activities that have been struckthrough on my bucket-list, time has taught me that these quantitative metrics will never measure up to the sum of my travel experiences.

I’ve slowed down the pace of my coming-and-goings a little over the past two years while I’ve worked to establish a new homebase for my life. This mostly-staying-still time has been full of gifts—of which two of the biggest have been the mental space to reflect on who I’ve become after two decades on the road, and enough margin in my calendar to dedicate a full 3 weeks to conquer a long-outstanding dream to visit Antarctica, my seventh, and final continent. 

To celebrate this milestone, and to honor my teacher, travel, I’ve compiled a list of the 7 biggest lessons that I’ve learned from traversing each of the 7 continents. Over the next 7 weeks I’ll be sharing these with you, so make sure you stop back.

And just in case you’re a little impatient like me, here’s a sneak preview:             

7 Lessons from 7 Continents 

  1. Europe: Anything is possible
  2. Asia: One world, many worldviews
  3. Africa: Resilience—finding the power to keep going
  4. North America: Love your neighbor—even if you don’t understand them.
  5. South America: Dance like your life depends on it.
  6. Australia:  Rest and retreat
  7. Antarctica: Shut up and listen

Keep your ears and eyes open friends, there is always something to learn.

See you next week!

PS. Do you follow me on instagram? Starting April 1, I’ll be posting a 90 day series of some of my favorite travel photos from around the world. Come over and check it out!

No 2015 Goals? No Problem.

I love new starts, new years, and everything about resolutions. But I’m here to tell you a secret. If you haven’t made any life changing goals for 2015 yet, you aren’t destined to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.  In fact, you may be setting yourself up for your best year ever.

According to the source of all modern wisdom (the internet) 25% of people who’ve made New Year’s resolutions won’t keep them through the first week of the new year. If you’re part of this percentage, don’t worry—you don’t have to wait another 51 weeks to try again.

I’ve been a serious New Years goal setter for as long as I can remember, but it took me awhile to realize that everyone is not like me (yes, you are different! And you are amazing!). Goals are good, and there’s a good chance that the practice of reflecting on the year gone by and setting an intention for the year to come will help set you up for success this year. But the process doesn’t work the same for everyone.

If traditional New Year’s resolutions haven’t worked for you (or if you just haven’t gotten around to it yet this year), here’s a few things I’ve discovered that may still help you on your goal-setting way in 2015:

  1. December 31 isn’t the most important day of the year for goal setting.

 A few years back I totally gave up goal setting in tandem with the New Year. The truth is that holidays exhaust me: I lose all routine, I’m overwhelmed with the acute awareness that life doesn’t live up to my expectations, and I find that I’m often dragging myself out of December in survival mode. I can’t think of a worse time for myself to make ambitious goals which challenge myself for the year ahead. 

The goals that we make during the exhilaration and/or exhaustion of the holidays are commonly the ones that quickly fall to the wayside because they aren’t based in reality. Then one year it occurred to me—what if I just wait a week for my life and my brain and my work schedule to go back to “normal”? Since then I’ve scheduled to set aside January 10th to think about and write my annual goals–it’s still close to the new year, but far enough removed that I feel re-grounded. If it jazzes you to set your goals in tandem with the countdown in Times Square, go for it. If you’re need another week to come out of your Christmas cookie coma, feel free to wait a week or two. Or pick a day that means something to you—birthday, summer solstice, or even Chinese New Year.

 2.    Trust your own process

Just like you get to set the day, you also get to set the rules for your goal setting. There are as many tools out there for new years goals setters as there are self help books–but it doesn’t mean that any of them will fit your personal style. Pick whatever tool helps you, or make up your own (goal setting is not rocket science). If you’re a creative type, draw pictures of what you want your life to look like in a one year, make a dream board, use your camera, create a playlist of songs that remind you of the things you hope to work on in the months ahead.  If you’re a left brain goal setter get giddy with logical planning—use Gantt charts, logical frameworks, and spreadsheets to keep your year in line.  Make one goal, a whole list of them, or don’t make any goals at all. One year, I had a goal to not set any goals (because what I needed was to give myself a break instead of a to do list). Do whatever is right for you, do it with intention, and don’t judge yourself based on someone else’s annual plan (remember: keep your eyes on your own paper).

3.    The reset button works all year round.

Believe it or not, every year has 365 days (and some years you even get a bonus day). If you forget about your goal or mess up on your intentions a bit, don’t get too worried about it, you can always restart no matter what day or month it is. I try to revisit my goals at the start of every season and again on my birthday in October (that’s when I set my fun goals for the year). When I revisit my intentions I can reevaluate what I’d planned in the context of the life changes that inevitably happen throughout the course of the year. This isn’t a cop-out, it’s an intentional realignment with reality. Sometimes I even realize my goals should have been bigger and this gives me a chance to ante-up.

 4.    Don’t underestimate yourself.

I like to check things off of my to do list, and for a long time I was afraid to add goals to my annual plan that I might not be able to achieve. Although I did this to set myself up for success, the reality was that I was setting myself up to fail at my bigger intentions. The purpose of a goal is to stretch yourself to a new place, not to solely complete a bunch of tasks that you know you’ll be able to do. Big thinking is where magic begins and if everything on the list isn’t checked off in 12 months, the reset button works for next year too.

5.   Work now = Success later 

Most of us like instant gratification and the whole concept of setting and sticking to year-long goals is a bit contrarian in the age of the iPhone. News Flash: If you set a big goal this month, you probably aren’t going to achieve it by next month (sorry). But the good news is this: if you actually spend a whole year working on that project or your dreams- you will get results.  If you commit to the work, this year’s intention will be next year’s reality.

It isn’t about wandering aimlessly through another year. It’s about setting your own path and intentionally choosing your steps. Do it now, and do it as often as you dare.

Happy 2015!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ― C.S. Lewis