Clean Focus

July 7, 2009

The most powerful ability a human being possesses is the ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.

Unfortunately, we live in the age of multitasking and distraction.

I think you all know what multitasking is.  You probably know how horrible it is.  If not, read this article.

We’re going to focus here on eliminating distraction.

To have clean focus, you can’t have anything else taking away your attention from what you are working on.  Some of these can include…

– External things like TV, email, Facebook, friends in the room, construction outside, etc.
– Internal things like internal butterflies, thoughts, emotions, etc.

Now, I think it is a silly goal to eliminate all of these things at all times.

That said, you need to be aware of when these things come up and determine whether or not they are seriously holding you back.

The more important the project, the more disciplined you need to be in keeping those distractions out.  Here are some ways to do this:

1.  Manipulate or change your working environment.  Remember, the place you work should ideally be both inspiring and free of distraction.

2.  Physically center yourself by taking three deep breaths (Deep breaths go all the way down to the stomach).  While breathing, simultaneously feel the breath going through your nose, filling your stomach and notice your peripheral vision.

3.  Mentally  center yourself by accepting everything exactly as it is, detatching from the past and future, and release your identification with your identity.

4.  Emotionally center yourself by visualizing that tension, anxiety and pressure exits your body as you exhale.  Imagine opening your chest and heart.

These may seem a little wierd, but give them a try.  If they work, keep doing them.  If they don’t, discard.

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Introducing Clean Focus And Clean Cuts

July 2, 2009

Let me give you a brief introduction to two things that I will be writing a lot more about in the future: clean focus and clean cuts.

Clean Focus: When you are doing something without any internal or external distraction.

Clean Cuts: When you switch your focus to something else, you do not allow what you were focused on before to carry over.

We already know that the ability to focus on one thing is the most powerful tool at our disposal.  We also know that distraction of any kind will kill your focus and make you both unproductive and emotionally unstable.

In every area of our lives, the ideal we should all be striving for is having clean focus and clean cuts.

A lot of people allow the problems in one area of their life to carry over the other areas of their life.  For example, someone might have relationship problems and then allow it to affect their focus in lecture the next day.  If they would just make a clean cut, accept that their problem is what it is and that they’ll deal with it when appropriate, then this will not happen.

Of course, this is much easier said than done.  Both your focus and your ability to transfer focus from one thing to another are like muscles that will get stronger the more you train them.

But just by being aware that having clean focus and making clean cuts is what you should be striving for, you will naturally move towards that (Reticular Activation System, a subject of another post).

For now, just start observing when distractions contaminate your focus.  Those moments will expose things that you need to take care of.

More on this later.


The Internal Butterfly Effect

June 30, 2009

This is another concept I learned from Eben Pagan.

Have you ever been working on an assignment when suddenly a thought popped up, which led to another, and another, and another until 20 minutes have passed and nothing had been accomplished?

You might ask yourself, “WTF happened?”

In science, there is something called chaos theory.  It is the idea that very small events can eventually cause very large events.

The classic example is the “butterfly effect.”  The theory is that a butterfly flapping its wings in, say, Mexico can alter the atmosphere just enough to eventually cause a Tornado in, say, Nebraska.

Well, we all have both internal and external butterflies of our own.  Once you are aware of them, you can “catch” these thoughts before they cause you problems.

Usually, internal butterflies stem take the form of certain thoughts.  For example, perhaps the thought of a cute girl in your Spanish class leads to you trying to figure out how you can talk to her, then imagining the two of you at a party together playing beer pong, then thinking about your previous girlfriend who you did special things with, etc.

Needless to say, you aint focused on the task at hand.

Next time you work on something, observe what thoughts trigger a chain of events that leads to distraction from what you are doing.  In the future, cut the thought loop off at the beginning when it is still a butterfly before it turns into a tornado.


Quick Thought On Whether To Work In The Morning Or Not

June 18, 2009

A lot of websites that give advice on college success recommend waking up early and doing work in the morning.  Here are some pros and cons to working in the morning.

Pros

1.  You have the most untapped energy available in the morning

2.  Being productive in the morning build positive momentum.  In other words, it is easier to be productive during the day if you’re productive from the moment you wake up

3.  You feel like you aren’t “wasting time”

Cons

1.  You lose the flexibility of when you go to bed

2.  You can’t drink the night before (It’s tough to work with a hangover)

3.  If you wake up late, you feel like you are way behind and start off the day in a lousy emotional state

4.  By working in the morning, you put yourself in a logical state of mind.  That will carry throughout the day and affect how you interact with others

5.  A lot of people find their creativity is a little lacking in the morning hours

Personally, I use the morning as a way to prepare myself for the rest of the day.  I like to spend my mornings at the gym, having sex, eating and hanging out.

That does not mean I recommend you do the same.

What I do recommend for everyone is that you do something before you begin working (No, brushing your teeth does not count).  Some suggestions include hitting the gym, meditating, having sex or eating a really nutritious meal.  This is called having a morning ritual.

If you jump straight into work, you will probably be performing at a very sub-optimal level.


The Importance Of Momentum

June 15, 2009

“An object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.”

That is Newton’s First Law Of Motion.  It’s application goes far beyond physics.

As I have pointed out before, we have a set of habits that make our lives pretty fucking predictable.  Naturally, then, to change your circumstances you need to change your habits.

But as we also know, it usually takes a lot of willpower to change a habit.

Usually you need to have serious emotional pain to find the motivation to go through with the difficult work of changing your habits.

So how do we get around this?

One way is by using that inevitability thinking I talked about in another article.  That mindset is a very important one to have.

But inevitability thinking in itself will not solve the problem.  You can mentally masturbate all you want, but until you actually take action, nothing is going to change.

What you need is momentum.  You need to get yourself in motion so that it takes an outside force to stop you, as opposed to being at rest and having to force yourself to be in motion.

Say you are lonely and want a girlfriend.  What could you do to make it inevitable that you will have a girlfriend in, say, a month?  Talk to girls, of course!

Now, if you have serious emotional leverage, you will be verymotivated. For example, if you can hear your roommate railing his girlfriend every night, it’s probably going to be easy to get yourself moving.

But let’s say the pain isn’t that severe.  Let’s say you want a girlfriend, but it’s limited to when you’re lying in bed alone late at night?  When you’re out and about during the day, you don’t feel motivated to blast through your anxiety to talk to girls.

The solution is to get some momentum going.  Start by asking random guys what the time is, if you can borrow a pen, where you can plug in your laptop, what he thought about the homework, etc.  Then talk to some “hired guns” at restaurants or the store.  They are paid to be nice to you.  Then move on to saying “hi” to girls sitting near you in the computer lab.  Maybe the step before that is to get comfortable sitting next to attractive girls in the computer lab.

Do you see where we are going with this?  We are building momentum by constantly moving towards what we want.  Each step is small and isn’t all that scary, but they are steps nonetheless. Most importantly, they do not require all that much motivation to complete.  In fact, after a while, it will take motivation to stop.

To use another example, say you want to increase the amount of time you can focus on an assignment.  Let’s say you can currently focus for 5 minutes and you want to get to an hour.

Start with 10 minutes.  Then move up to 15 minutes.  Then move up to 20 minutes.  You are building momentum.

Another part of this is eliminating stuff that creates “friction” for your momentum.  For example, if you want a girlfriend, you should probably masturbate less.

A more advanced concept is to integrate momentum into your everyday life.  From the second you wake up, you are constantly moving towards what you want.  Implementing the morning ritual is one such example.

I encourage you to think about the different areas of your life where you can apply this concept.


Changing Yourself In College

June 1, 2009

A lot of incoming freshman come into college seeking to change their lives.  Usually, this means reinventing yourself as a person.

This is fantastic and should extend beyond college.

I can hear the chorus of naysayers.

“But you should just be yourself!”

“Don’t change who you are, that’s not keeping it real!”

“It can’t be done!”

This is all nonsense and comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of human beings: who we are is consistent, but what we do, how we look and the actions we take is not.

In other words, while it is true that parts of us cannot be changed, most of our behaviors and actions can.

This is because human beings are creatures of habit.  Well over 90% of the things that we do every day are predictable and do not change from day to day.

The way we socialize is habitual.  The way we do our work is habitual.  The way we walk is habitual.  The way we breathe is habitual.

We get our habits by acting in the same way over and over again, oftentimes for years.

Biologists and psychologists go a step further and claim that a lot of our habits are programmed, including our personality traits.  Read up on Myers-Briggs if you don’t believe me.

The good news is that while you might naturally programmed to be a certain way, you have the power to override that programming.

For example, if you are naturally a person who prefers solitude , you can become a person who prefers socializing.

If you are a person who feels the need to logically think about something before taking action, you can become a person who is more spontaneous and goes with the flow.

If you are someone who feels uncomfortable vibing with someone else, that can most definitely change.

Now, in my opinion, it is best to develop yourself on all levels.  For example, you should be perfectly comfortable both when you are by yourself reading a book AND in a crazy nightclub.  I think going overboard with one or the other makes you a pretty shallow person.

Anyway, making changes to yourself requires you to change your habits.  This is tough because your body and mind will resist furiously.

If you are a shy guy and you want to become more social, you will feel anxiety when you go and talk to people.  Why is this?  Because you are going against a habit of not being social that has been reinforced for years!

Luckily, you are a human being who is not a slave to her instincts.  You have willpower.  You can override that shit.

Unfortunately, willpower burns up quickly.

Willpower is like those big-ass rocket boosters

Willpower is like those big-ass rocket boosters

As anyone who has tried to go to the gym knows, it is much easier to go to the gym the first week when you are all excited than it is the second week when that enthusiasm wanes and rubbish thoughts start to appear…

“I’ll skip today.  One day won’t hurt right?”

“Oh, I didn’t eat my pre-workout meal, so I won’t be able to work very hard.”

“Oh, it’s raining outside.  Maybe I should just stay in.”

“It’s just not me.”

More often than not, those thoughts win out and you stay the exact same, non-fit person you were before.

Instead of relying entirely on your willpower to change a habit, it is usually better to use your willpower to create systems that force you to do the things needed to change the habit.  This article goes into this in more detail.

Using the workout example, you would leave yourself no other option than to show up to the gym.  Perhaps you have a training partner pick you up at a certain time everyday.  Perhaps you tell a friend to cash a $500 check if you skip a day.

Those rubbish thoughts suddenly have no power over you.

Fundamentally, this is why most college students fail to make positive changes to themselves: they allow themselves to be overwhelmed by their minds telling them not to do the things required to change themsleves.

I mean, 80% of the battle is usually just showing up.

If you want to improve your social skills, 80% of your success will come from just getting yourself to talk to people.

If you want to improve your grades, 80% of your success will come from opening your textbook.

If you want to get a boyfriend, 80% of the battle is showing up to places where there are guys swirling around.

It’s the old 80/20 rule in action.

Here is the take home lesson:

1.  Figure out what changes you want in your life.

2.  Figure out the person you need to become to have those changes happen.

3.  Force yourself to become that person by doing the work necessary to change your old habits.

Make yourself the person you know you can be.


What Does It Mean To Be Successful In College?

May 21, 2009

“Your college years are the best years of your life.”

You hear this all the time.  College is portrayed as a sort of heavenly place where young people gather to work hard, party hard and have all kinds of decadent fun.  Is this reality?

Many people do not have this experience when they are in college.  A lot of college students find themselves losing their minds trying to pull the grades or wander through a limbo of booze and drama, only to emerge as unprepared for the world as they were four years earlier.

It’s unfortunate, really.  The jury is still out on whether or not college is the “best” years of your life, however there is no reason why they should not be awesome years during which you had all the success you desired and then some.  Instead of feeling like you are struggling, you should be plowing through like the Incredible Hulk… on steroids…

A lot of college students struggle with the basics.  Ask a crowd of college students what “success in college” actually means, and you will get a flurry of answers.

“Getting a 4.0”

“Getting laid a lot”

“Learning stuff”

“Becoming a better thinker”

“Becoming wiser”

“Partying it up”

“Become a social butterfly”

“Network”

“Getting a good job”

“It’s subjective”

That last answer is part true.  Indeed, the specifics are subjective.  That said, there are three broad things that you must do to be able to look back on your college years and say, “wow, I was really successful.”

1. You must get the grades.  Plain and simple.  Fundamentally, you are forking over a lot of money in order to get a nice piece of paper that, you hope, will open up some doors for you later on.

2. You must grow as a person. By the time you exit college, you should be different in many respects than you were when you first entered.

3. You must have fun. If you don’t have fun, you are serving a jail sentence, not attending college (Or living, for that matter).

Notice how broad those three are.  What each of those things means to you will be different than what they mean to you friends, special someone, mother, father, cousins, aunts, me, and pop culture idols.

The other thing to notice is that they reinforce one another.  Letting one or two of them go by the wayside will hurt you in the one or two you are focusing on.

Getting the Grades


Are you getting the grades you need to get in the areas that you need to get them?

When you ask the typical college student, “how are your grades?” they usually respond with “uhh…they’re OK.”  What the hell does that even mean?  They are either what you need, or they are not.

The ambitious premed student will obviously have a different standard for “getting the grades” than someone who just wants a specific degree to get a specific type of job within 4 years.  To one, a 3.8 is unacceptably low while the other would be ecstatic with a 3.3.

It is absolutely true that you can get a 4.0 in college.  Some of the people I interviewed for my upcoming book pulled it off in spite of some pretty insane challenges.  If that is your goal, then by all means go for it.  You will find some very useful stuff on this blog to help you get there.

If you do not want a 4.0, that’s perfectly legit as well.

That said, everyone should have a target GPA that aligns with their goals.

“But Andy,” you might protest, “I don’t know exactly what I want to do after college!  I just want to give myself a lot of flexibility.”

Fine.  Figure out what you need to do to give yourself that flexibility.  A numerical GPA should come out of that.

Your target GPA can change over time.  However, this should only happen if your goals/priorities have really changed, or if you were a little too zealous with your projection.  While proper use of the techniques and strategies in this book will allow you to get whatever realistic goal you want, they cannot defeat the forces of arithmetic.

In other words, if you a sophomore with a 3.8, you cannot get a 4.0.  Sorry, I’m not God.

In the basics article, I give you some techniques that everyone, from the least ambitious to the very ambitious can apply IMMEDIATELY to drastically generate better work.

In “Dealing With Boring Classes,” you get some techniques for getting the most out of lecture so you learn stuff the first time it is presented.

Applying the techniques in those two articles alone should be enough for most college students to get the grades they want

For college students who have heavy courseloads, there are some advanced posts describing different things you can do to keep your sanity.

Growing as a Person

Doesn’t that sound cheesy.

Yes, it is a little airy fairy.  However, there is no better way to put it.

When you come into college, you are a person.  Your essence stays the same throughout, however the way you act can most definitely change.  What I am talking about are things like…

– Maturity
– Emotional Health
– Physical Health
– Mental Health
– Self-discipline
– Focus
– Social Skills
– Relationship Skills
– Self-confidence
– Opinions and values
– Authenticity
-Ability to empathize

This is by no means a complete list, however it should give you an idea of what I am talking about.

When you grow as a person, you improve in these areas.

In fact, I will take it one step further.

You should improve in ALL of these areas during your college years.

Whoa there!

Note how I did not say “you must develop the self-discipline of a monk,” “you must become a social butterfly” or “you must be able to go do a triathalon.”  However, there is no reason NOT to make at least SLIGHT improvements in all of those areas by the time you are done with college.

For goodness sakes, we are talking YEARS here.

If you observe your elders who are middle aged or older, most of them are decaying in these areas.  When you ask them why they are letting themselves get overweight, you will usually hear “because I’m getting older” as a response.

While I do not think this is a good enough excuse, it does have some meat on it.  After the age of thirty, on average, we naturally begin to decline.  For example, we lose about a half-pound of muscle every year without intervening (By, you know, actually using your muscles).

During our college years, we are at the height of our natural development.  Our bodies have higher metabolisms than they ever will, our muscles are growing faster than they ever will, and our overall energy output is higher than it ever will be.

In other words, not growing is unnatural!  Older folks don’t have this privilege.

This personal growth does not require reading a bunch of self-help material or spending hours a day at the gym.  It will naturally happen so long as you are being proactive with your college experience, something you are doing by studying and applying the stuff on this website.

Having Fun

No, the definition is no necessarily “getting hammered,” “going to house parties” or “playing World of Warcraft” (not to say that you are wrong for having fun when you do those things)

It is important to do things that you enjoy during your college years, and for the rest of life as well.  Unfortunately, too many college students dismiss this as “wasting time” or “not my thing.”

Nonsense.

As I talk about in other sections, it is impossible to be working at a level of peak performance unless you do things that rejuvenate yourself.  If the name doesn’t tip you off, peak performance is when you are producing your best stuff.  Obviously, to get the grades, this is the level where you want to be.

So yes, even the most hardcore of you need to have fun.

What that means to you is different than what it means to me.

If you do not know how to have fun (Something that more people than you might think struggle with), make a commitment right now to find something.  That means getting out of your room and trying new things.  I will be writing an article with some suggestions.

If you want to be more social, but lack the social skills, there are articles on how to improve your social skills, how to have fun at parties and how to develop a “cooler” personality.

If you want a boyfriend or girlfriend, but have no experience, there will be plenty of posts for you.