Show Me Your Friends and I’ll Show You Your Future

I recently read an article that convinced me that in the next five years a person will become a conglomerate of the people they hang out with. Perhaps you’ve heard this before?

You become over time the average of your five closest friends.

The article said that more important than food and exercise, more important than what we read or what we watch on television, our friends are the most influential force in determining the kind of people we will become. In other words, hang out with cynics and you’ll become a cynic. Hang out with cheaters and you’ll become one, too. On the other hand, hang out with people who are wise in relationships and you’ll soon find yourself a social ninja.

Friends love you at your worst and can help you be your best, but I think many of us don’t realise the importance of whom we choose to surround ourselves with and the impact that has on our lives.

Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.

So what now? How do we handle our friendships in a way that will make the future brighter? Here are 3 basic ideas:

1. Take a Social Inventory

Recently I was thinking about this and I did an exercise which really has been quite significant for me. I took a large piece of paper and drew a circle in the middle. I put my name in the circle and then drew lines coming from the centre circle to create other circles in which I wrote the names of the people closest to me. Psychologists actually have a name for this – they call it the “social atom” - and claim it can help us determine our social health. Once I finished my social atom, I asked myself some tough questions:

  1. How many of these relationships can I realistically maintain?
  2. Which relationships are good for me, and which aren’t?
  3. Which relationships do I need to pursue for my own health and happiness?
  4. Which relationships do I feel God is nudging me to pursue?

I decided when spending my time, I would manage my relationships the same way I managed my diet or my finances - I’d start making smarter decisions.

Because the truth is relationships are all heading somewhere. They are alive and they are changing us. And if somebody doesn’t take the wheel and decide where the car is going and who’s in it, you’re risking your character and personality on “chance” that could cost you a meaningful life. When it comes to friendship, be intentional – don’t just wait for friends to fall into your lap. Pursue them. Surround yourself with friends who have the characteristics you’d like to develop in yourself. After all, your closest friends are who you’re becoming.

2. Be Present

Whether we like it or not, social media has redefined friendship. And more and more we have become obsessed with what people think of our online image. It’s not that Facebook or Twitter are bad things, it’s just that social media should always supplement relationships, not replace them.

So commit to developing your friendships face to face, not thumbs to thumbs.

Presence matters. There is power in physical presence. Comfort and compassion can only really be conveyed by physical presence. Of course, this is far more difficult and demanding, but it is also far more meaningful.

Being present means establishing a habit of availability to others – that is it is something we choose to do, and practice doing. So choose to be present.

3. Be Open

Being “open” can mean many things, but for me, in terms of approaching friendships, being open is about being vulnerable with those around you and telling people the truth behind what’s really going on in your life. Brené Brown, an expert on vulnerability, says that while “we may impress people with our strengths, we connect with people through our weaknesses.”

Being open means being brave enough to take off the mask and ask for help when you need it most.

 

 

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13 Lessons I Learnt From the 2014 CrossFit Open.

CrossFit vs Fight Club

A while ago I wrote a post about what I love (and don’t love) about CrossFit, and I took some serious heat for it. However, despite some of my reservations, I dived into the CrossFit world and recently competed in the 2014 “Open”. The Open is a global competition where everyone in the world is invited to compete in five workouts over five weeks, posting their scores online in real time. This year, almost 180,000 athletes competed in the Open! I was one of those, and here’s what I learnt:

1. Whatever your thoughts on CrossFit are, competing in the Open is a lot of fun.

2. I am a much more competitive person than I realised. And comparing your scores to others on the world stage is addictive.

3. Rich Froning is not human.

4. “Thrusters” suck. (If you don’t know what a thruster is, don’t find out!)

5. I am so grateful for my years of gymnastics training. Gymnastics gives you an incredible base of fitness, flexibility, strength, balance and agility, which helps in just about all other sports, including CrossFit.

6. Something about Dave Castro (the guy who designs the Open workouts) is not right. And by not right, I mean evil.

7. Whether you are an elite athlete, or just getting back in shape, setting yourself a challenge (whether that’s running a race, or competing in the Open) will stretch you, motivate you, and build your confidence.

8. I am capable of far more than I think I am. We all are.

9. The Reebok/CrossFit marketing monster is pretty ferocious. And very very clever.

10. Gymnasts are not heavy lifters.

11. Pushing pasts your limits and surviving makes you stronger. It’s the only way to grow.

12. The “cult” of CrossFit is alive and well, and to be honest, doing the Open workouts with others cheering you on is a real community experience.

13. Talking extensively about CrossFit to your wife is not cool. They get over your hour-long-workout-debriefs apparently. I learnt this the hard way.

 

 

Embracing “Africa Time”

I read this at Cafe Bloom and it resonated with me. It explains succinctly why so many post-moderns and hipsters are attracted to all things ‘vintage’, and drawn to that which lies outside the ‘mainstream’.

Hipsters making chocolate. #hashtag

Hipsters making chocolate. #hashtag

The term ‘Africa Time’ has been used in jest for years to refer to (and rip off) the relaxed approach to time in Africa – one that prioritises RELATIONSHIP and EXPERIENCE over revenue and productivity. Funny though, how this tradition is becoming a trend the world over as more and more weary Westerners turn ‘back’ to values and wellbeing.

Slow food, Slow design. Slow living.

It usually takes excess to turn us off something. In this case, the overdose is mass-produced perfection and slick consumerism.

Airtight, airbrushed, air-conditioned.

Having traded communities and tradition for corporations and technology in the name of progress and profit, we are now questioning the cost of this exchange and investing again in sustainable wellbeing and meaningful fulfilment.

Wholesome, homemade and authentic are now the valued currencies.

Slow design embraces craft artefacts, vernacular design, and generations of traditional evolution. And this is not the domain of Auntie Bertha and her blue-rinse brigade, but rather of young hip women – and men – seeking traditional skills and a sense of cultural heritage and tradition.

This move aims to meet the real needs of people, space, communities, and the environment. The need for sustainability is giving greater value to timeless design that endures – to antiques, custom-made pieces and hand-carved furniture. Slow design privileges the hand of the maker and celebrates the idiosyncrasies of things IMPERFECT, AGEING and ORGANIC as an antidote to slick stylised perfection.

Slow design… it’s about time.

A Question That Will Change Your Day, Everyday.

What if problems like writers block and procrastination were less about your  shortcomings and more about how you structure your work day?

“My day seems foggy until I fill out this form. I’m still amazed at how much it clears my thinking.”

What if problems like writers block and procrastination were less about your shortcomings and more about how you structure your work day?

Over the past few months I have begun practicing a new habit, and it has made a world of difference. I procrastinate less, am more creative, use my time more wisely, and come away from the day feeling far more satisfied.

Everyday, as soon as I arrive at my desk or open my laptop to begin work, I start by filling in a short and simple form. The form, called the “Storyline Productivity Schedule”, was designed by Donald Miller and others and is available here for free. It asks a number a straight-forward questions, and forces you to prioritise key projects for that day. However, there is one question on the form that, for me, is the game-changer.  Here it is:

“If I could live today over again I’d…”

While it may seem like an innocuous  question, the idea behind it  was first proposed by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Vienese psychologist who worked with depressed and suicidal patients. Asking them to consider “what they’d do differently the first time around” was a mental trick that allowed them to assess what was really important and learn from their past mistakes even before they made them.

This is the secret-sauce! I’ve found that asking myself this simple but profound question keeps me from getting caught up in trivial problems and allows me to focus more on what really matters. Most people wake up worried about all the stuff they have to get done, but if you think about what you’d do differently - if you pretend you’re living today over again – you’ll find yourself realising most of the stuff you worry about isn’t worth it, and instead add more relational elements into your life.

Asking yourself what you’d do differently if you were living today over again is one of the keys to living a more meaningful life and assessing priorities. I really am amazed at how well it works. Go on, give it a try.

Sex is Not Just Physical

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact.” – 1 Cor 6:16 (The Message)

This took me a while to figure out. In my youth I treated sex as if it was exactly that – just physical. And at the time I thought no one was getting hurt. Now I know I was the one getting hurt.

Our culture says, “As long as you don’t get an STD and no one gets pregnant – then just have fun! No harm done, right? When it’s over , its over. But I think deep down we know this simply isn’t true. In our hearts, in our gut, and in our experiences eventually we come crashing into the reality the sex is not just physical. And to treat it like it is – is to hurt ourselves. Even if that hurt is a kind of numbness.

This is my story. This is many of our stories.

But things can change. There is hope. There is a different way to view sex. And there is always grace.

Disclaimer: This is an extremely controversial and sensitive subject – one that cannot be adequately written about or spoken about in a blog, or a 30min video. But, if you have the time, check out the message I gave a few weeks ago around the topic of sexuality. I will be receiving all hate mail at tombasson@gmail.com ;)

3 Reasons Why I Love (And Don’t Love) CrossFit

That's me on the left in the final of the United We Stand CrossFit Games 2013.

That’s me on the left in the final of the United We Stand CrossFit Games 2013.

Firstly, I have only been doing CrossFit for the past five months, so I certainly don’t pretend to know it all, or even to have a valid opinion. These thoughts are just my own personal observations as a fitness-fanatic, ex-professional gymnast, and a physiotherapist.

So here are three things I love (and don’t love) about CrossFit.

1.
What I Love: The Competition

The greatest thing for me about CrossFit is the competition. By creating “The Games” (and thanks to some very clever marketing by Reebok) CrossFit has captured the imagination of participants and spectators alike. As a sport (and it is a sport) it has almost singlehandedly brought “functional fitness” to the forefront of the mainstream, which has now spilled over into almost every other fitness arena. As a gymnast, I find it incredibly exciting to see all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds in all sorts of settings ditching the traditional gym machines in favour of rope climbs, kettlebells, rings, tire flips, pull-ups, push-ups, burpees etc. And so for that, I thank CrossFit.

What I Don’t Love: The Rush

Unfortunately, in my opinion, CrossFit’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness. Because the sport is geared around competition, whether formal events or inherent in the WOD (workout of the day) concept, I find too often people are rushed into learning skills that are way beyond their capability. This is well acknowledged by CrossFitters themselves, who are always striving to teach correct and safe technique to newbies. However, while this remains critical, certain movement standards themselves that are built into the sport can be problematic. For example, I was a gymnast for more than twenty years, and not once in those years was I ever allowed to walk on my hands. Ever. A handstand is a skill designed to be held in a static position – that’s how you activate your core and ensure correct shoulder & body positioning. To walk in a handstand is to practice poor technique, and to risk injury. Now of course, in terms of competition, it’s a lot more entertaining to watch someone “running” on their hands across a field, then to watch someone standing still for less time. Similarly, as a gymnast I was always strongly discouraged against kipping pull-ups or muscle-ups. Now I don’t have a major problem with competing these moves, but what worries me is that people go straight from ‘no-handstand’ to ‘handstand-walking’, or can’t do a single strict pull-up but are already learning kipping technique. My advice is to SLOW DOWN and take the time to learn the basics before you advance any further.

2.
What I love: The Community

I think one of the greatest aspects of CrossFit is the embedded sense of community and camaraderie that goes with it. CrossFit has successfully created  a culture in their “boxes” (CrossFit training centres) where people feel like they BELONG – something that we are desperate for in our fragmented and community-starved world. When you join a “box” you join a family. People who know you, who cheer you on, who have your back, and who will push you to achieve things you would never have achieved on your own. After competing with my team in a recent competition, I honestly felt like I had gone to war with these people! We had literally bled together, and it has brought us closer as human beings. This is the power of community, and it explains why CrossFitters will defend their sport and their box with passion.

What I Don’t Love: The Exclusivity

Sometimes unfortunately, because of the strong sense of connection and affiliation with one’s particular box, I have found that their can be some really unhealthy rivalry within the CrossFit community. I’m not talking healthy competitiveness between boxes – I’m talking nasty, backstabbing, gossiping nonsense that goes on far too much. Of course, CrossFit is not the problem here, it’s people that are the problem. But what it creates is an exclusive, cliquey culture that is extremely off-putting to a person who is genuinely looking into starting the sport. Personally I would love to see more collaboration between boxes, and opportunities for athletes to use multiple training avenues without feeling like they are “betraying” someone.

3.
What I Love: The Challenge

If you’ve ever tried CrossFit (or any functional fitness training for that matter) you will know that it is TOUGH! When I first started using Kettlebells a few years ago I thought I was in pretty good shape and reasonably fit. Well… lets just say that for three days after my first workout I had to use specialised equipment to get on and off the toilet! Muscles I didn’t know I had hurt in places I’m embarrassed to mention. It was ugly. But I loved it! And I kept coming back for more. You see there is something almost addictive about pushing yourself to near-breaking point, and then realising you are stronger than you gave yourself credit for. It boosts your confidence and leaves you feeling energised! As the saying goes, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

What I Don’t Love: The Obsession

Of course, like any good thing, we as humans can take it to an unhealthy extreme. This is evident in any sport or pursuit. The compulsion to go too far too fast overwhelms us and we get enveloped in a world where we lose perspective on what really matters and what is most important. I see this tendency in myself, and I see it in the CrossFit community too. People who have drunk CrossFit “kool aid” and who will not listen to any advice or concerns or caution, or who have closed their minds off to any alternative form of training. They defend blindly, lash out defensively, and justify compulsively. My advice, which is really advice for myself, is to HAVE FUN and remember IT’S JUST A GAME. Actually it’s just exercise. :)

7 More Things I Wish I Knew Then That I Know Now

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Last week I wrote a post called 8 Things I Wish I Knew Then That I Know Now. Here are 7 more…

1. Today is What’s Important.

It’s so easy to live stuck in the past or perpetually in the future. Pay attention to what is happening now, to the people around you, to the task at hand and to all of the choices you make today, big and small. What you do today, determines what tomorrow will bring. Our future is set by what we decide and act on today.

2. Money is Not the Most Important Thing.

Money is important. We all have bills to pay, I understand that completely. But in the end, or even in the middle, maybe especially in the middle, money is not the end goal. Satisfaction in a job well done, contributing to something worthwhile and finding something you enjoy doing (or figuring out how to enjoy what you do) are more motivating goals and certainly lend themselves to a happier and less stressful life. Contrary to what you have been sold by the “lifestyles of the wealthy and happy” fallacy, money does not equate to happiness. Nor does it insulate you from pain, suffering and conflict or improve your relationships with those around you. Money is simply a currency that allows you to eat, dress and live. It is not a magic wand.

3 . Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Up and Stand Out.

So often when we are younger we are afraid to speak out, but I say take a stand! Speak up! Stand out from the crowd. If something is important to you, then stand up for it, even if it is unpopular. Never compromise your integrity. One person can make a difference and shed light on injustice or unfairness. If it’s not right, say so.

4. Believe the Best of People

It’s so easy for us to expect the worst of people. We expect politicians to be corrupt, we expect people to be selfish. And we might often be right. But keep on believing the best in people anyway – simply put, it’s a better way to live. This does not mean put on Pollyanna glasses and ignore the bad. Dishonesty, disrespect, unhappiness and evil exist and you will have to deal with them. But don’t let those difficulties colour your experience. If you view the world around you and life’s challenges through the lens of goodness, then you will find life much more enjoyable.

5. Keep Doing the Hard Stuff

This is the first one that might not be as obvious. There were times in my life when work was hard, and I did it anyway, but hated it. I did it because I had to, but boy did it stress me out and leave me exhausted. But you know what? Every bit of hard work I did has paid off for me in the long run. Maybe not right away, but I’m using skills and habits I learned during those times of high stress and long hours and tedious work — I use them all the time, and they’ve made me into the person I am today. So keep going and don’t give up so easily!

6. Don’t Stress Too Much

All that stuff that’s stressing you out – I hate to say it, but it won’t matter in 5 years, let alone 15. When things are happening to you right now, it feels like it means the world, and that this reality will never change. But it will. Things always change. And perspective is a good thing to learn.

7. Stop Watching So Much TV

All that time you spend watching TV is a huge, huge waste of time. I don’t know how much TV I’ve watched over the years, but it’s a crapload. Hours and days and weeks I’ll never have back. Who cares what happens on reality TV, when reality is slipping by outside? Time is something you’ll never get back – don’t waste it on TV.

8 Things I Wish I Knew Then That I Know Now

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I’m coming up on 32 years old and have certainly made my fair share of mistakes in life. And while I’m not a big believer in regrets (I have learned tremendously from every single mistake) there are a few things I know now that wish I had known when I was younger:

1. Don’t Worry Too Much About What Other People Think Of You

For the most part, what other people think and say about you doesn’t matter, and yet we spend so much energy worrying about it. As Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Instead, choose a few people in your life whom you trust, who know you well, and who love you enough to tell you the truth (even when it hurts). Listen to them, and don’t bother too much about the rest.

2. Don’t Be So Sure of What You Know (or Think you Know)

I once saw a sign that read, “Hire teenagers now, while they still know everything” and I had to laugh. Because that’s exactly how I thought as a teenager – like I had all the answers and always knew better. But the more I seem to be learning these days, the more I realise how little I actually know, and how wrong I can often be. So stop trying to be right all the time and take the time to listen. You might learn a few new things.

3. Stop Trying To Get, and Give a Little

While it may seem paradoxical, I am absolutely convinced that the path to true contentment lies in the serving of others. That while our talents and abilities might reveal our purpose and our passion, it is our servant-hearts that reveal our maturity. It took me a long time to figure this one out.

4. Family First

Over the years I have spoken to many people who have cheated their families for the sake of their career goals, and have suffered the consequences. Work. Family. Church. Hobbies. Fitness. Housekeeping. Socialising. Sleep. With only 24 hours in each day, we simply can’t fit everything in. And what we choose to cheat is a clear announcement of our values. When you come home an hour earlier, miss a round of golf, or let the dishes sit while you play with your child, you make your family feel valued and secure. Simply put, you must choose to cheat at work rather than at home.

5. Friends Are Crucial

Long-term the people you make friends with are so much more important than your accomplishments or the things you buy. I’ve had a some achievements, I’ve bought a lot of things, and I’ve made a few friends over the years. Of those, the only thing that really matters – the only thing that will outlive me, is my relationships. And I wish I could have spent more time with friends (and family) than on the other things.

6. Pace Yourself

I am an extremely impatient person. I like to take action and get things done, so I often shoot out the starting blocks very quickly only to find myself exhausted early on in the race. So pace yourself. You do not have to do it all at once. In fact, if you try to do it all at once you will, at best not have time to enjoy it, and at worst burn out and damage your health and relationships.  Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  

7. Grab Hold of Opportunities

Opportunities in life aren’t always easy to recognise. We usually expect them to come with beepers and billboards, but most often they are dressed in overalls and look like work.  Sometimes we call opportunities problems and we try to avoid them, but the truth is nothing is so often irretrievably missed as a daily opportunity. So take some risks and be ready to seize the adventures when they present themselves.

8. Make Your Kisses Expensive

My mom used to tell me this when I was a young boy, but I never listened to her. Growing up I was far to flippant with my sexuality and have had to pay the price in later life. The truth is sex is not just physical, and to treat it that way is to hurt ourselves.

Finding God in Gangnam

Love it or hate it, it cannot be denied that PSY’s song “Gangnam Style” is a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm.

Here are just a few incredible facts surrounding the song:

  • On December 21, 2012, the “Gangnam Style” music video became the first ever YouTube video to reach a billion views! As of today, the video has been viewed over 1.75 billion times, making it the most watched video in the history of the world!
  • By the end of 2012, just four months after it’s release, the song had topped the music charts of more than 30 countries around the world (which is incredible considering the song is sung in Korean!).
  • Given that the video is 4 minutes and 12 seconds long, if all 1,7 billion times it’s been viewed have been viewed to its completion (not even considering all the spinoffs and re-postings), that means approximately 120 million man-hours have been spent watching the video. This is about the same amount of man hours it took NASA to put a man on the moon in ten years!!
  • Gangnam Style has reportedly made PSY $15 million so far from digital downloads and YouTube advertising alone… let alone record deals, record sales etc!
  • The song’s signature dance moves have been attempted by British Prime Minister David Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama, and even the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has hailed it as a “force for world peace”.

But, what lessons, if any, can be learnt from this song? Well, actually quite a bit, I think.

Ultimately PSY is asking people to not take themselves so seriously, and surprisingly I think God calls us to do the same…

Check out my video sermon to explore a little deeper.

8 Things I’ve Learnt About Habits

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Over the past year or so I’ve set out to discover as much as I can about “habits” – how they work, and how we can change them to improve our lives. Three books in particular have been incredibly helpful in this regard: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, and Your Brain at Work by David Rock. And so here are just a couple key insights I’ve gathered from these books, and others:

1. Habits are Powerful

After you make your habits, your habits make you. Intentions are great, vision is vital, but without the discipline of daily habits, we are not going to get very far. As Mike Murdock says, “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.”

2. Habits CAN be Changed

The good news is that we have the capacity and the ability to change, alter and shift our habits. We need not be prisoners to our old ways, or held captive by ingrained patterns. It may not always be easy to change, but it is totally possible, and perhaps not as hard as we might think.

3. Small Adjustments Go a Long Way

Often when we think of all the things we want to change we get overwhelmed, run in ten directions at once, and change nothing. However, according to research it’s the small changes that have the biggest impact. (For instance, making your bed has been proven to make you more productive in the day). So stop trying to change all your habits at once and choose something small and specific and start there.

4. Habits are Not Only Individual

Groups, communities, families, companies, and even nations have corporate habits. They lie at the soul of our culture and are often taken for granted, but, if you can change a societal habit, you can change the world!

5. Habits Follow a Pattern

Every habit follows the same basic pattern: The CUE, the REWARD, and the ROUTINE. By simply understanding this pattern and identifying the cue and the reward, we are able to replace the old routine with a new one, with staggering results.

6. Habits Keep You Going

Motivation may get you started, but habits keep you going.

7. Keystone Habits Make All the Difference

According to Duhigg, research shows we all have a few “trigger habits” or “keystone habits” –  singular habits which, when we do them, transform all other areas of our lives. Keystone habits set off a chain of internal events, giving us willpower and momentum to do other things. Over time, these keystone habits form other positive habits, and we become completely different people. So whether it is deciding to get up early every morning, or to walk every day, find and implement your keystone habit, and watch it set off a slow avalanche of change.

8. Community is Essential

According to Dr Duhigg “habits only change when we believe change is possible”. And this belief happens best in community. When we hear other’s stories, and witness others overcoming similar challenges, it strengthens our hope, which in turn strengthens our ability to change.

The Case for Replacing Family Dinners with Family Breakfasts

This is a guest post by Laura Vanderkam that I just had to repost…

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By dinnertime, your family is tired, in a bad mood, and often not together. The mornings are another story—and can bring all the benefits of supper, with none of the pain. Plus: waffles! Fast Company’s Laura Vanderkam lays out why family breakfasts are superior to family dinners.

Parents hear again and again that eating dinner together as a family is supposed to be important for kids. Studies find that kids who eat with their families are less likely be depressed, and more likely to eat fruits and veggies. Such research may explain why families claim to eat together far more often than they actually do. While one USA Today survey found that 50% of families claim to always eat dinner together, a UCLA study that observed middle-class families found that only 17% actually do. (Both stats can be found in this book.)

Despite our best intentions, dinner is just hard to pull off. Kids have after-school activities, and working parents may not be home until 6 pm or later. Someone has to make dinner just as everyone is crashing in the door, harried from traffic and starving. But dinner isn’t the only time a family can have a family meal. In our house, we’ve found that family breakfast has a lot going for it that family dinner just can’t match.

First off, we’re usually all there.

Second, everyone likes breakfast food. Many a family dinner has been marred by fights over broccoli or kale consumption. No one complains about pancakes, waffles, cereal, eggs, bagels, etc.

Third, research into the science of willpower is finding that self-discipline is like a muscle. It gets fatigued from constant use. By dinnertime, everyone has been taxing their willpower all day making decisions and dealing with difficult people. So we’re more likely to be crabby and unpleasant with our loved ones.

But at breakfast? We’re fresh—and able to give our families our best, rather than what’s left over. That’s worth getting up a few minutes earlier.

The Delicious Case for Replacing Family Dinners with Family Breakfasts | Fast Company


Laura Vanderkam is a nationally recognised writer who questions the status quo and helps her readers rediscover their true passions and beliefs in pursuit of more meaningful lives. She is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, August 27, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

 

The Quantified Self: Are We Tracking Ourselves Too Much?

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The wearable device trend is taking off, recording everything from how well you sleep to how far you’ve moved. But can it improve your life?

Every morning I get up, put on some clothes (while trying not to wake my wife who will kill me if I do) and walk to the kitchen to get breakfast. Already, I’m being tracked by my Jawbone UP health monitoring bracelet, which is logging every step I take, every staircase I climb and every kilometre I walk. And if I slip off my Jawbone and sync it with my iPhone, I can see exactly how well (or not well) I slept the night before.

Welcome to the world of “Quantified Self” (QS).

Wikipedia defines QS as “a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life”. Now a cynic might immediately dismiss the QS movement as gimmicky navel-gazing by geeky workout nuts (like myself), but I think that’s a bit unfair.

The truth is that if you’ve ever used a scale or kept a log of your spending, you’ve self-monitored. And if we’re told it’s a good thing to keep track of our money, why wouldn’t we also want to keep track of our physical activity or our sleep – two incredibly important factors in someone’s health and happiness? What’s more, many studies have shown that better information about your actual exertions makes for more informed decisions. And this is as true of exercise as it is of personal spending. As Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioural Research and Technology, says:

“Research shows clearly that heightening awareness of one’s performance virtually always improves that performance — smarter eating, higher productivity, weight loss, superior performance in sports, and so on.”

Little wonder then that, as monitoring devices become smaller, cheaper and better integrated with smartphones, more people are embracing their quantified selves. With an estimated $800 million in sales of wearable monitoring devices in 2012, this sensor-happy gluttony of self-tracking is shaping up to be a biological metric of the future.

So where is it all heading?

Well, only time will tell, but here’s a few things I’ve stumbled across:

Of course it’s still very early days for implanted technologies, so don’t expect to be swallowing Nike+ pills or injecting a Fitbit under your skin any time soon, but, when the day comes, the amount of data we’ll be able to collect about ourselves is likely to skyrocket.

With these new developments come concerns over data obsession and privacy violation, which I completely understand, but in my opinion the upsides outweigh the risks. When it comes to privacy, my view is that as long as I know who has access to my data, and I have access to all of it at all times, I say bring it on.

I have been using my Jawbone UP, along with my Garmin Forerunner 910XT with heart rate strap for almost two years now, and I can honestly say they have helped me tremendously to understand my body, my limits, my patterns, and my habits, thereby empowering me to change those very habits for the better.

Today QS may be reserved for geeky athletes who like to stare at graphs (guilty as charged), but in the future quantifying ourselves is not going to be done by some people but by all people.

Today we may call it Quantified Self: tomorrow we are going to call it health care.