Apr 26, 2008

-Whiten Your Teeth the Natural Way

White teeth and strawberries may not sound like they go hand in hand, but it turns out the berries can actually lighten your smile.

The secret to this inexpensive home whitening method is malic acid, which acts as an astringent to remove surface discoloration. Combined with baking powder, strawberries become a natural tooth-cleanser, buffing away stains from coffee, red wine, and dark sodas. While it’s no replacement for a bleaching treatment at your dentist’s office, “this is a fast, cheap way to brighten your smile,” says Adina Carrel, DMD, a dentist in private practice at Manhattan Dental Arts in New York. “Be careful not to use this too often, though, as the acid could damage the enamel on your teeth.”

You need:
1 ripe strawberry
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Directions: Crush the strawberry to a pulp, then mix with the baking powder until blended. Use a soft toothbrush to spread the mixture onto your teeth. Leave on for 5 minutes, then brush thoroughly with toothpaste to remove the berry–baking powder mix. Rinse. (A little floss will help get rid of any strawberry seeds.) Carrel says you can apply once a week.

Apr 25, 2008

-A Close Review on Global Warming

I thought it's time (although better then late) to have a close look on the technicalities of this serious issue that is overlooked by many and mostly politicians!

Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and oceans since the mid-twentieth century and its projected continuation.

The average global air temperature near the Earth's surface increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) during the hundred years ending in 2005

Climate model projections summarized by the IPCC indicate that average global surface temperature will likely rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the twenty-first century. The range of values results from the use of differing scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions as well as models with differing climate sensitivity. Although most studies focus on the period up to 2100, warming and sea level rise are expected to continue for more than a thousand years even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilized. The delay in reaching equilibrium is a result of the large heat capacity of the oceans.

Increasing global temperature will cause sea level to rise, and is expected to increase the intensity of extreme weather events and to change the amount and pattern of precipitation. Other effects of global warming include changes in agricultural yields, trade routes, glacier retreat, species extinctions and increases in the ranges of disease vectors.

Remaining scientific uncertainties include the amount of warming expected in the future, and how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe. Most national governments have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but there is ongoing political and public debate worldwide regarding what, if any, action should be taken to reduce or reverse future warming or to adapt to its expected consequences.

This image shows the instrumental record of global average temperatures as compiled by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia and the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office. Data set HadCRUT3 was used. HadCRUT3 is a record of surface temperatures collected from land and ocean-based stations. The most recent documentation for this data set is Brohan, P., J.J. Kennedy, I. Haris, S.F.B. Tett and P.D. Jones (2006). "Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new dataset from 1850". J. Geophysical Research 111: D12106. doi:10.1029/2005JD006548. Following the common practice of the IPCC, the zero on this figure is the mean temperature from 1961-1990.

Global average radiative forcing estimates and ranges in 2005 for anthropogenic greenhouse gases and other important agents and mechanisms.

Understanding global warming requires understanding the changes in climate forcings that have occurred since the industrial revolution. These include positive forcing from increased greenhouse gases, negative forcing from increased sulphate aerosols and poorly constrained forcings from indirect aerosol feedbacks as well as minor contributions from solar variability and other factors. The poorly constrained aerosol effects results from both limited physical understanding of how aerosols interact with the atmosphere and limited knowledge of aerosol concentrations during the pre-industrial period. This is a significant source of uncertainty in comparing modern climate forcings to past states.

Contrary to the impression given by this figure, it is not possible to simply sum the radiative forcing contributions from all sources and obtain a total forcing. This is because different forcing terms can interact to either amplify or interfere with each other. For example, in the case of greenhouse gases, two different gases may share the same absorption bands thus partially limiting their effectiveness when taken in combination.

This figure shows the history of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as directly measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This curve is known as the Keeling curve, and is an essential piece of evidence of the man-made increases in greenhouse gases that are believed to be the cause of global warming. The longest such record exists at Mauna Loa, but these measurements have been independently confirmed at many other sites around the world.

The annual fluctuation in carbon dioxide is caused by seasonal variations in carbon dioxide uptake by land plants. Since many more forests are concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere, more carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere during Northern Hemisphere summer than Southern Hemisphere summer. This annual cycle is shown in the inset figure by taking the average concentration for each month across all measured years.

The red curve shows the average monthly concentrations, and blue curve is a moving 12 month average.

This picture depicts the last three solar cycles as measured in solar irradiance, sunspot numbers, solar flare activity, and 10.7 cm radio flux. Solar irradiance, i.e the direct solar power at the top of the Earth's atmosphere, is depicted as both a daily measurement and a moving annual average. All other data are depicted as the annual average value.

The ~11 year solar magnetic cycle is a fundemental aspect of the sun's behavior and is associated with variations in total output and activity. Irradiance measurements have only been available during the last three cycles and are based on a composite of many different observing satellites. However, the high correlation between irradiance measurements and other proxies of solar activity make it reasonable to estimate past solar activity. Most important among these proxies is the record of sunspot observations that has been recorded since ~1610. Since sunspots and associated faculae are directly responsible for small changes in the brightness of the sun, they are closely correlated to changes in solar output. Direct measurements of radio emissions from the Sun at 10.7 cm also provide a proxy of solar activity that can be measured from the ground since the Earth's atmosphere is transparent at this wavelength. Lastly, solar flares are a type of solar activity that can impact life on Earth by affecting electrical systems, especially satellites. Flares usually occur in the presence of sunspots, and hence the two are correlated, but flares themselves make only tiny perturbations of the solar luminosity.

Recently, it has been claimed that the total solar irradiance is varying in ways that aren't duplicated by changes in sunspot observations or radio emissions. However, this conclusion is disputed. Some believe that shifts in irradiance may be the result of calibration problems in the measuring satellites.These speculations also admit the possibility that a small long-term trend might exist in solar irradiance, though the data chosen for this plot do not have a significant trend. Also, the differences in flare activity over the three cycles would not be related to possible measurement artifacts in irradiance.

With respect to global warming, though solar activity has been at relatively high levels during the recent period, the fact that solar activity has been near constant during the last 30 years precludes solar variability from playing a large role in recent warming. It is estimated that the resdiual effects of the prolonged high solar activity account for between 18 and 36% of warming from 1950 to 1999.

This image is a comparison of 10 different published reconstructions of mean temperature changes during the last 2000 years. More recent reconstructions are plotted towards the front and in redder colors, older reconstructions appear towards the back and in bluer colors. An instrumental history of temperature is also shown in black. The medieval warm period and little ice age are labeled at roughly the times when they are historically believed to occur, though it is still disputed whether these were truly global or only regional events. The single, unsmoothed annual value for 2004 is also shown for comparison. (Image:Instrumental Temperature Record.png shows how 2004 relates to other recent years).

For the purposes of this comparison, the author is agnostic as to which, if any, of the reconstructions of global mean temperature is an accurate reflection of temperature fluctuations during the last 2000 years. However, since this plot is a fair representation of the range of reconstructions appearing in the published scientific literature, it is likely that such reconstructions, accurate or not, will play a significant role in the ongoing discussions of global climate change and global warming.

For each reconstruction, the raw data has been decadally smoothed with a σ = 5 yr Gaussian weighted moving average. Also, each reconstruction was adjusted so that its mean matched the mean of the instrumental record during the period of overlap. The variance (i.e. the scale of fluctuations) was not adjusted (except in one case noted below).

Except as noted below, all original data for this comparison comes from and links therein. It should also be noted that many reconstructions of past climate report substantial error bars, which are not represented on this figure.

This figure shows the Antarctic temperature changes during the last several glacial/interglacial cycles of the present ice age and a comparison to changes in global ice volume. The present day is on the left.

The first two curves shows local changes in temperature at two sites in Antarctica as derived from deuterium isotopic measurements (δD) on ice cores (EPICA Community Members 2004, Petit et al. 1999). The final plot shows a reconstruction of global ice volume based on δ18O measurements on benthic foraminifera from a composite of globally distributed sediment cores and is scaled to match the scale of fluctuations in Antarctic temperature (Lisiecki and Raymo 2005). Note that changes in global ice volume and changes in Antarctic temperature are highly correlated, so one is a good estimate of the other, but differences in the sediment record do no necessarily reflect differences in paleotemperature. Horizontal lines indicate modern temperatures and ice volume. Differences in the alignment of various features reflect dating uncertainty and do not indicate different timing at different sites.

The Antarctic temperature records indicate that the present interglacial is relatively cool compared to previous interglacials, at least at these sites. The Liesecki & Raymo (2005) sediment reconstruction does not indicate signifcant differences between modern ice volume and previous interglacials, though some other studies do report slightly lower ice volumes / higher sea levels during the 120 ka and 400 ka interglacials (Karner et al. 2001, Hearty and Kaufman 2000).

It should be noted that temperature changes at the typical equatorial site are believed to have been significantly less than the changes observed at high latitude.

Shows climate model predictions for global warming under the SRES A2 emissions scenario relative to global average temperatures in 2000. The A2 scenario is characterized by a politically and socially diverse world that exhibits sustained economic growth but does not address the inequities between rich and poor nations, and takes no special actions to combat global warming or environmental change issues. This world in 2100 is characterized by large population (15 billion), high total energy use, and moderate levels of fossil fuel dependency (mostly coal). The A2 scenario is the most well-studied of the SRES scenarios that assume no attempt to address global warming.

The IPCC predicts global temperature change of 1.4-5.8°C due to global warming from 1990-2100. As evidenced above (a range of 2.5°C in 2100), much of this uncertainty results from disagreement among climate models, though additional uncertainty comes from different emissions scenarios.

This figure shows the average rate of thickness change in mountain glaciers around the world. This information, known as the glaciological mass balance, is found by measuring the annual snow accumulation and subtracting surface ablation driven by melting, sublimation, or wind erosion. These measurements do not account for thinning associated with iceberg calving, flow related thinning, or subglacial erosion. All values are corrected for variations in snow and firn density and expressed in meters of water equivalent (Dyurgerov 2002).

Measurements are shown as both the annual average thickness change and the accumulated change during the fifty years of measurements presented. Years with a net increase in glacier thickness are plotted upwards and in red; years with a net decrease in glacier thickness (i.e. positive thinning) are plotted downward and in blue. Only three years in the last 50 have experienced thickening in the average.

Systematic measurements of glacier thinning began in the 1940s, but fewer than 15 sites had been measured each year until the late 1950s. Since then more than 100 sites have contributed to the average in some years (Dyurgerov 2002, Dyurgerov and Meier 2005). Error bars indicate the standard error in the mean.

Other observations, based on glacier length records, suggest that glacier retreat has occurred nearly continuously since the early 1800s and the end of the little ice age, but variations in rate have occurred, including a significant acceleration during the twentieth century that is believed to have been a response to global warming (Oerlemans 2005) 

Greenhouse Gas Concentration Stabilization Level Scenario Categories. Self-drawn based on Figure in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group III, Summary for Policymakers. The text in the report reads:

"Stabilization scenario categories as reported in Figure (coloured bands) and their relationship to equilibrium global mean temperature change above preindustrial, using (i) “best estimate” climate sensitivity of 3°C (black line in middle of shaded area), (ii) upper bound of likely range of climate sensitivity of 4.5°C (red line at top of shaded area) (iii) lower bound of likely range of climate sensitivity of 2°C (blue line at bottom of shaded area). Coloured shading shows the concentration bands for stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere corresponding to the stabilization scenario categories I to VI as indicated in Figure. The data are drawn from AR4 WGI, Chapter 10.8. [i.e. from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group I]"

This plot is based on the NASA GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP), which combines the 2001 GISS land station analysis data set (Hansen et al. 2001) with the Rayner/Reynolds oceanic sea surface temperature data set (Rayner 2000, Reynolds et al. 2002).
The data itself was prepared through the GISTEMP online mapping tool, and the specific dataset used is available here. This data was replotted in a Mollweide projection with a continuous and symmetric color scale. The smoothing radius is 1200 km, meaning that the reported temperature may depend on measurement stations located up to 1200 km away, if necessary.

This figure shows the predicted distribution of temperature change due to global warming from Hadley Centre HadCM3 climate model. These changes are based on the IS92a ("business as usual") projections of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions during the next century, and essentially assume normal levels of economic growth and no significant steps are taken to combat global greenhouse gas emissions.

The plotted colors show predicted surface temperature changes expressed as the average prediction for 2070-2100 relative to the model's baseline temperatures in 1960-1990. The average change is 3.0°C, placing this model towards the low end of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 1.4-5.8°C predicted climate change from 1990 to 2100. As can be expected from their lower specific heat, continents warm more rapidly than the oceans in the model with an average of 4.2°C to 2.5°C respectively. The lowest predicted warming is 0.55°C south of South America, and the highest is 9.2°C in the Arctic Ocean (points exceeding 8°C are plotted as black).

This model is fairly homogeneuous except for strong warming around the Arctic Ocean related to melting sea ice and strong warming in South America related predicted changes in the El Niño cycle. This pattern is not a universal feature of models, as other models can produce large variations in other regions (e.g Africa and India) and less extreme changes in places like South America.

-The Seven Deadly Sins of a Relationship

“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand.” - Emily Kimbrough

If you can avoid these seven things, and focus instead on doing the four things above, you should have a strong relationship. I’m not going to guarantee anything, but I’d give you good odds. :)

1. Resentment. This is a poison that starts as something small (”He didn’t get a new roll of toilet paper” or “She doesn’t wash her dishes after she eats”) and builds up into something big. Resentment is dangerous because it often flies under our radar, so that we don’t even notice we have the resentment, and our partner doesn’t realize that there’s anything wrong. If you ever notice yourself having resentment, you need to address this immediately, before it gets worse. Cut it off while it’s small. There are two good ways to deal with resentment: 1) breathe, and just let it go — accept your partner for who she/he is, faults and all; none of us is perfect; or 2) talk to your partner about it if you cannot accept it, and try to come up with a solution that works for both of you (not just for you); try to talk to them in a non-confrontational way, but in a way that expresses how you feel without being accusatory.

2. Jealousy. It’s hard to control jealousy if you feel it, I know. It seems to happen by itself, out of our control, unbidden and unwanted. However, jealousy, like resentment, is relationship poison. A little jealousy is fine, but when it gets to a certain level it turns into a need to control your partner, and turns into unnecessary fights, and makes both parties unhappy. If you have problems with jealousy (like I once did), instead of trying to control them it’s important that you examine and deal with the root issue, which is usually insecurity. That insecurity might be tied to your childhood (abandonment by a parent, for example), in a past relationship where you got hurt, or in an incident or incidents in the past of your current relationship.

3. Unrealistic expectations. Often we have an idea of what our partner should be like. We might expect them to clean up after themselves, to be considerate, to always think of us first, to surprise us, to support us, to always have a smile, to work hard and not be lazy. Not necessarily these expectations, but almost always we have expectations of our partner. Having some expectations is fine — we should expect our partner to be faithful, for example. But sometimes, without realizing it ourselves, we have expectations that are too high to meet. Our partner isn’t perfect — no one is. We can’t expect them to be cheerful and loving every minute of the day — everyone has their moods. We can’t expect them to always think of us, as they will obviously think of themselves or others sometimes too. We can’t expect them to be exactly as we are, as everyone is different. High expectations lead to disappointment and frustration, especially if we do not communicate these expectations. How can we expect our partner to meet these expectations if they don’t know about them? The remedy is to lower your expectations — allow your partner to be himself/herself, and accept and love them for that. What basic expectations we do have, we must communicate clearly.

4. Not making time. This is a problem with couples who have kids, but also with other couples who get caught up in work or hobbies or friends and family or other passions. Couples who don’t spend time alone together will drift apart. And while spending time together when you’re with the kids or other friends and family is a good thing, it’s important that you have time alone together. Can’t find time with all the things you have going on — work and kids and all the other stuff? Make time. Seriously — make the time. It can be done. I do it — I just make sure that this time with my wife is a priority, and I’ll drop just about anything else to make the time. Get a babysitter, drop a couple commitments, put off work for a day, and go on a date. It doesn’t have to be an expensive date — some time in nature, or exercising together, or watching a DVD and having a home-cooked dinner, are all good options. And when you’re together, make an effort to connect, not just be together.

5. Lack of communication. This sin affects all the others on this list — it’s been said many times before, but it’s true: good communication is the cornerstone of a good relationship. If you have resentment, you must talk it out rather than let the resentment grow. If you are jealous, you must communicate in an open and honest manner to address your insecurities. If you have expectations of your partner, you must communicate them. If there are any problems whatsoever, you must communicate them and work them out. Communication doesn’t just mean talking or arguing — good communication is honest without being attacking or blaming. Communicate your feelings — being hurt, frustrated, sorry, scared, sad, happy — rather than criticizing. Communicate a desire to work out a solution that works for you both, a compromise, rather than a need for the other person to change. And communicate more than just problems — communicate the good things too (see below for more).

6. Not showing gratitude. Sometimes there are no real problems in a relationship, such as resentment or jealousy or unrealistic expectations — but there is also no expression of the good things about your partner either. This lack of gratitude and appreciation is just as bad as the problems, because without it your partner will feel like he or she is being taken for granted. Every person wants to be appreciated for all they do. And while you might have some problems with what your partner does (see above), you should also realize that your partner does good things too. Does she wash your dishes or cook you something you like? Does he clean up after you or support you in your job? Take the time to say thank you, and give a hug and kiss. This little expression can go a long way.

7. Lack of affection. Similarly, everything else can be going right, including the expression of gratitude, but if there is no affection among partners then there is serious trouble. In effect, the relationship is drifting towards a platonic status. That might be better than many relationships that have serious problems, but it’s not a good thing. Affection is important –everyone needs some of it, especially from someone we love. Take the time, every single day, to give affection to your partner. Greet her when she comes home from work with a tight hug. Wake him up with a passionate kiss (who cares about morning breath!). Sneak up behind her and kiss her on the neck. Make out in the movie theater like teen-agers. Caress his back and neck while watching TV. Smile at her often.

8. Bonus sin: Stubbornness. This wasn’t on my original list but I just thought about it before publishing this post, and had to add it in. Every relationship will have problems and arguments — but it’s important that you learn to work out these problems after cooling down a bit. Unfortunately, many of us are too stubborn to even talk about things. Perhaps we always want to be right. Perhaps we never want to admit that we made a mistake. Perhaps we don’t like to say we’re sorry. Perhaps we don’t like to compromise. I’ve done all of these things — but I’ve learned over the years that this is just childish. When I find myself being stubborn these days, I try to get over this childishness and suck it up and put away my ego and say I’m sorry. Talk about the problem and work it out. Don’t be afraid to be the first one to apologize. Then move past it to better things.

“I felt it shelter to speak to you.” - Emily Dickinson


Apr 18, 2008

-Is Organic Food Worth the Price?

First, a little bit about organic food labels and what they mean. For a long time, the government didn’t regulate this term, and we really had no guarantee of the degree what this term meant when displayed on a food label.

Now, here’s the scoop on labeling. If the product has...

At least 95% of all the ingredients certified organic, it gets the USDA official “organic seal”.
At least 70% all the ingredients are certified organic, it can list “organic” in the product description on the label, but not the official USDA organic seal.
Less than 70% of organic ingredients, the word organic can be used on the product ingredient list on the back of the package only.
Is organic food more nutritious?

Most studies show that the nutrient content of both organic and conventional (non-organic) foods to be equivalent. Not exact, but very similar. So, if the nutrient content is equivalent, then why buy organic?

If you’re concerned about hormones and antibiotic use in beef, chicken, and their byproducts (like dairy and eggs), consider buying organic versions. While it is very safe to consume the regular products, it might be worth the extra money for peace of mind.

For produce, there is some evidence that thin skinned produce–like apples, green peppers, and porous fruits, like berries, might be a good choice, since the pesticide residue is more easily able to penetrate the thin and porous skins. That said, it is perfectly safe to consume any fruit or vegetable that is not organic. For fruits with a thick skin–like bananas and oranges, that are peeled (along with any residue), the organic choice is one of taste preference.

Processed foods labeled organic are not any healthier than conventional. Pastries, cookies and similar products labeled organic still have the same calories, fat, and lack of nutrients, compared with conventional products. Choose them if you like, but don’t confuse the nutrient composition.

Another good choice in this area is for locally grown foods. While not necessarily organic, the local grower is aiming to please his or her local consumers, and there seems to be better readily available information about the purchased foods–so ask when you buy at your local farmer’s market or farm stand.

A good rule of thumb is to consider organic foods for those products you consume the most. The bottom line for all of this: all food available is safe to consume. Organic foods can be a health plus for many products, but the scientific evidence does not show that it is safer or better. You can be the judge of what is best for you and your family.

Apr 16, 2008

-Living a Fulfilling Life: A Guide to Following Your Heart

Following your heart is a key to living a fulfilling life. Without following your heart, you may do things the right way only to find later that you’ve chosen the wrong things to do in the first place. You may live to meet other people’s expectations without ever finding what matters to you. At the end, you just live someone else’s live without ever living yours. Scary.

Follow your heart That’s why it’s important to follow your heart. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most important lessons for an effective life. The obvious next question is how.

From my experiences, here are some tips to listen to and follow your heart:

1. Align your heart with the right direction

If you have a compass, you need to be sure that it points to the right direction. To do that, you should ensure that there is no magnetic field around that can alter its direction. Similarly, you should ensure that your heart points to the right direction. Prevent other things from deviating it.

In my opinion, this is where spirituality comes into play. Spirituality helps you align your heart with the right direction. So hone yourself spiritually. Depending on your belief, you could pray, meditate, or read spiritual texts.

2. Trust your heart

This step is essential. Without trusting your heart, it will be difficult for you to follow the next tips. After all, how can you follow your heart if you don’t even trust it?

This step, of course, is not easy. Many people trust their mind more than their heart. But somehow your heart knows what is right, while your mind often just rationalize things to meet your or other people’s expectations. There is a huge difference between them.

The first tip above (align your heart with the right direction) plays a big role here. If you know that your heart is well-aligned, you will have a strong reason to trust it.

3. Forget your plans (at least for a while)

To follow your heart, you should not let your mind get in the way. One manifestation of your mind is your plans. So forget your plans, at least for a while. This way you free your mind to listen to your heart without being limited by your current plans.

4. Open your mind to new possibilities

Continuing the previous tip, to follow your heart you should open your mind to new possibilities. Often your heart will tell you something that is beyond what you can currently see. If you do not open your mind to new possibilities, you may not be able to perceive it. Even if you hear it, you may soon discard it because it doesn’t make sense.

5. Calm down

The voice of your heart is often just a whisper, so you need to first calm the other voices, especially the voices of your mind. You may want to close your eyes and take a deep breath to calm down your mind. Or you may want to meditate.

6. Listen to the small voice within you

Now that you’re calm and your mind is open, you can listen to the small voice within you. What does it say regarding the decision you want to make?

A sign that it’s the voice of your heart is you know it is right. You may not be able to explain why. You just know that it’s right.

7. Be careful of rationalization

The perpetual enemy of listening to your heart is rationalization. After you listen your heart says something, your mind will soon try to rationalize things. It may give you reasons why you should not do that or why you won’t be successful. For this reason, the first glimpse or impression you get is usually the right one. The later ones might have been polluted by rationalization.

8. Build the courage to follow your heart

After you know what your heart is saying, the difficulty lies in following it. Often following your heart takes courage to do something unpopular or even irrational. You might not have the courage to follow your heart right away, especially for big decisions in life. That’s fine. You could practice with smaller decisions. Just build the courage to follow your heart over time and be careful not to let rationalization comes and distracts you.


I’m not against being rational. Being rational is good and often necessary. But I think your heart should have higher priority than your mind. It should have the ability to override what your mind is saying. If your mind goes hand in hand with your heart, that’s good. But if it doesn’t, your heart should have the final say. After all, living your own life is much better than living someone else’s, no matter how good the latter is.

Apr 11, 2008

-13 Things to Avoid When Changing Habits

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” - Jim Ryun

1. Taking on two or more habits at once. We’ve all done this. I want to learn to wake early, and to start running, and to eat healthier, and to be more organized, and to write every day … all at once! But no matter how much enthusiasm we have for all of these goals, taking on even just two habits at once is setting ourselves up for failure. I’ve tried it. Many times. It’s certainly possible, but it’s not for those of us who have difficulty changing habits (I think that’s nearly all of us). I would estimate that you triple or even quadruple your chances of success if you focus on one habit at a time, for one month at a time. Devote all of your energy to that habit change, and once it’s on autopilot, move on to the next one. Knock ‘em down one at a time.

2. Not committing a plan to paper. It’s easy to wake up, jump out of bed, and yell out loud, “I’m going to make a change today!” Who among us hasn’t done that? (Side note: if you don’t live alone, your housemates or family members might not appreciate all the yelling.) But just telling ourselves, whether out loud or quietly in our heads, that we’re going to change isn’t enough. You have to write down your goal. Write a start date. Write an end date (30 days is a good time frame). Write down exactly what you’re going to do. Write down how you’re going to be accountable, what your rewards are, what the obstacles are, what your triggers are. More on these below. Main thing: put it on paper and stick to the plan (don’t file the plan in your inbox, you piler you!).

3. Being half-committed. I’ve done this a few times myself: I will say, “I think I’ll quit smoking today.” Then I’ll throw away my pack of cigarettes (this should be in past-tense as I don’t smoke anymore, but I’m too lazy to go back and change the tense). Then I’ll go for as long as I can (often half a day!) and then cave in and go buy another pack. Then I feel guilty for a little while until I half commit to quit again. That doesn’t work. You have to commit Big Time. That means tell the world about it. Seriously — put it on your blog, tell your family, friends, co-workers, your butcher, the guy from your high school who you say hi to when you run into him at the grocery store and who you call “buddy” because you forgot his name. The more people, the better. Publish your entire plan. Put up a sign on your desk and refrigerator. Make a solemn promise to your child (this worked for me when quitting smoking).

4. Not having support. There will be times when you falter, almost invariably. Who will you turn to when you need encouragement? If you don’t have a good answer to this, you need to think it through. If you have a significant other, that’s a good choice, but have more than one supporter. Maybe your mom, your sister, your best friend, your boss. Maybe an online friend or three. Best yet, join a support group or an online forum full of people doing the same thing. Make the commitment to them, and ask them to help you when you hit rough spots. Make a promise to call them if you do. Put this in your written plan.

5. Not thinking through your motivation. In my experience, what people call discipline, I call motivation. Why are you disciplined enough to do something? Because you have the right motivation. When you lose the motivation, you lose the discipline. Before you start your habit change, think through your motivations. Why are you doing this? What will keep you going when you forget your reasons? Public commitment is a big motivator, of course, but you should have internal ones too. Write these down in your plan.

6. Not realizing the obstacles. Every habit change is a path littered with obstacles. Unfortunately, when we hit some of these, we often quit. Or we’ll try again, but hit the same obstacles again and again with the same result. Instead, think it through, and anticipate your obstacles. If you’ve failed before, think about what obstacle stopped you. If you’ve never done this habit change before, do some research and read about others who’ve succeeded and failed at it, and find out what obstacles you should expect. Then make a plan for what you’ll do when you face the obstacles. For example, I have a hard time eating in moderation when I go out. What will I do when I go out to eat? What are my strategies? I have to think these through before actually going out, because when the urge hits and you don’t have a plan, you’re too late.

7. Not logging your progress. You can change habits without keeping a log, but a log just increases your chances of success — and why wouldn’t you want to do that? Things are hard enough without using all the tools at your disposal. A log helps you succeed because it reminds you to be consistent. It keeps you aware of what you’re actually doing. It motivates you, because you want to write good things in that log. It helps keep you accountable before the people you’ve made a commitment to.

8. Having no accountability. Speaking of accountability, it’s the second half of the all-important public commitment. It’s not enough to make a big announcement on your blog and not follow through. For example, I announced my plans to get in shape earlier to all of you … but I also created a small training blog (or “tralog”) that will help keep me accountable. I report my progress daily, whether I fail or succeed. Take a look at my “tralog”. Even if you don’t have a blog, you have to set up a system where you remain accountable — maybe post your log up at your workplace, or email your progress to people, or just report to them daily in person.

9. Not knowing your triggers. This is an important key to changing habits. Every habit has at least one trigger — an event that immediately precedes the habit. Some habits have more than one trigger — for example, when I smoked, my triggers included waking up, eating, sex, stressful events, going out drinking, etc. Each time these events happened, almost without fail, I would smoke — either that, or I’d get the urge to do so. The more consistent the link to the trigger, the stronger the habit. So when you try to break a habit, you have to know all of your triggers (log it for a few days) and then create a positive habit to replace the negative habit for each of the triggers. Running, for example, replaced smoking when I got stressed. For positive habit changes, such as exercise, you need a trigger that will happen every day (or as often as you need it to happen). For exercise, you could exercise right after your morning coffee (if you have coffee at the same time every day already) or right after work, if you get off work at the same time every day. Put your triggers in your written plan, and be very very consistent with them — when the triggers happen, do the habit immediately, every single time. The less consistent you are with your triggers, the weaker the habit will be.

10. Not doing your reading. With every habit change, I find it important to read as much as possible about it, before and during. I will do my research, to find out strategies for success, potential obstacles, good tools that will help me be successful. And I’ll still read about it during the habit change — blogs, magazines, books, forums, success stories — to help motivate me.

11. Changing focus too soon. Often we’ll start a habit change, and within a week or two change our focus to something else. Well, the habit probably isn’t firmly ingrained by then, and so we’ve wasted all that time trying to form a new habit and then abandoning it before it’s on autopilot. Instead, stick to this habit for at least 30 days, and be consistent as possible.

12. Not being consistent. I’ve mentioned this a couple times now, but it should be addressed because it’s important. If you attach a habit to a trigger, you have to do the habit every single time, immediately following the trigger. If you do it sometimes and not others, you will not have a habit. Try not to miss a single time if possible, because once you miss once, you’ll be tempted to miss another time, and then a third, and then you’ve got nothing.

13. Quitting after failure. However, if you do miss once, or twice or three times, don’t give up. Just figure out why you missed, and plan to beat that obstacle next time. Then be as consistent as possible from then on out, until the habit is ingrained. If you quit, you’ve let the failure beat you. But if you reset your resolve, and learn from your failure, the failure then becomes a positive thing that helps you to succeed. As I’ve said before, I see failure as a stepping stone to success.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle
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