How to win an award

A few nights ago I spent time with a Chancellor’s Award winner. It’s a prestigious recognition — of the thousands of faculty and staff on Fredonia’s campus, only five people win it each year.

I asked if he had any advice for winning the award.

“Give, and give, and give, and give,” he said. “When you feel like you can’t give any more, that’s when you’ve given just enough.”

The first day of classes

This week, freshmen across the country will realize that college is a lot like high school. You sit in a room, listen to a teacher talk, then take a test on what the teacher said.

And yet, look a little deeper and you realize college is nothing like high school. At least it shouldn’t be.

You should be changing. You should be exploring your interests. You should be getting better at making friends. You should be developing habits that will help you for the rest of your life.

Last Friday I joked to our men’s soccer team that I could have gotten into Yale had I known in high school what I know now. We were talking about the importance of sleep, that it’s a foundation for good physical and mental health. In high school I was chronically sleep-deprived — too tired in class to pay attention. By my freshman year of college I’d developed some semblance of good sleep hygiene. I could finally pay attention, and my grades slowly improved each semester.

Let’s go over what good sleep hygiene is now, because by final exams it will be too late:

  • Go to bed before midnight. Sleep at least seven hours, preferably nine. I can’t think optimally without eight.
  • Make your room as dark as possible. Outside lights shouldn’t be shining in the window. Even the small red light on a TV can disturb sleep.
  • That means no phones or laptops in bed with you at night. Put it under the bed, or across the room, and don’t use them within an hour or two before bed. The blue light emission disrupts sleep rhythms.
  • Cool environments are good, as is white noise to block out sound. I always sleep with a fan on. My college roommate preferred earplugs.
  • Stop eating and drinking 2 hours before bed, then take small sips of water as needed. Most food contains large amounts of water, and your sleep is disrupted if you have to pee during the night.

Now, enjoy your first day of classes. It only comes once.

Depression, anxiety, and how our words influence our mental health

I pulled these tweets off of my Twitter feed this morning. It only took a few minutes. Pay close attention to the words in bold.

Never drinking again.”

“Two hate-groups fight each other in public. Only one side gets blamed. Why? Because the Media is part of one of the hate-groups.”

“Hobbies include: -Letting people ruin my life – eating avocados”

“Radical Islamic Terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary! The courts must give us back our protective rights. Have to be tough!”

The words and phrases in bold are called “absolute words.” In 1955, the psychologist Albert Ellis noticed that his patients suffering from depression and anxiety used absolute words much more frequently than non-depressed and non-anxious people. Training his patients to use fewer absolute words became the foundation of rational emotive behavioral therapy.

According to Ellis, “absolutes are irrational and inaccurate modifier words that do not describe reality and when used in our speech and thought give us permission to be more upset than needed.”

If you’d like, turn on CNN right now and keep a tally of how often you hear any of these absolute words: should, have to, always, every, everyone, never, gotta, only, need, must, everybody, every time, can’t shouldn’t, nobody, nothing, hate it, awful, terrible, kills, kills me, worse, can’t stand it, perfect, not fair.

At the same time, keep a tally of how often you hear moderate words, the words Ellis would train his patients to use instead: prefer, would like, possible, maybe, had better.

These moderate words, according to Ellis, “best describe life experiences … because extreme experiences are rare. Rational, moderate descriptor words give us options, choice, and rational speech and thought.”

You can already guess which column of tallies is going to dominate CNN.

Here’s the interesting part — your brain doesn’t differentiate between speaking these words, reading them, or hearing them spoken.

Why you need to exercise, even if you’re skinny

I’ve posted this quote on the blog before, but it’s worth repeating:

“‘How do you become more productive?’

Richard Branson leaned back and thought for a second. The tropical sounds of his private oasis, Necker Island, murmured in the background. Twenty people sat around him at rapt attention, wondering what a billionaire’s answer would be to one of the big questions — perhaps the biggest question — of business. The group had been assembled by marketing impresario Joe Polish to brainstorm growth options for Richard’s philanthropic Virgin Unite. It was one of his many new ambitious projects. Virgin Group already had more than 300 companies, more than 50,000 employees, and $25 billion per year in revenue. In other words, Branson had personally built an empire larger than the GDP of some developing countries. Then he broke the silence:

‘Work out.’

He was serious and elaborated: working out gave him at least four additional hours of productive time every day.”

It’s hard to explain further if you haven’t experienced it.

Need more convincing? A place to start?

Start here.

Sugar addiction: do you deserve carbs?

According to Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin, probably not:

“The most important thing I’ve learned about nutrition is you need to deserve your carbs . . . to deserve [hundreds of kcal of carbs] post-exercise, you need to be sub-10% body fat. And the quickest way to know if you have sub-10 body fat as a male is: Can I see the lineal alba [vertical separation] on your abs? In other words, can I see all ab rows? One ab row doesn’t count; you’ve got to see them all.”

Let’s assume you have over 10% body fat, or over 13-15% for a woman. It’s a fair assumption that you’d benefit by reducing your intake of simple carbs. Let’s break that down:

What’s a simple carb? — white potatoes, white bread, white rice, cereals, sugary drinks and desserts, among others.

Why are simple carbs bad? — they’re not, but humans eat too much of them now. If you were a hunter-gatherer 100,000 years ago and you came across a honeycomb, the energy-rich honey you found might prevent you from starving. Today, sweet foods like honey are plentiful, and they’re making us fat.

How do I eat fewer simple carbs? — That’s what the rest of this post is about.

You have a limited supply of willpower, and resisting the temptation to eat simple carbs uses some of it. If your stockpiles of willpower aren’t replenished, you return to your simple carb addiction.

That’s where Scott Adams comes in again:

“The willpower you need to resist simple carbs such as white potatoes, white bread, and white rice has to come from somewhere, and as I mentioned earlier, studies show that using willpower for anything reduces how much you have in reserve for other temptations. The approach that works for me involves stealing willpower from the part of my brain that tries to avoid overeating. You might want to give my method a try. For a few months, eat as much as you want of anything that is not a simple carb. That frees up your willpower so you can use it to avoid those delicious and convenient simple carbs.

If you were hungry and I said you couldn’t eat the delicious bread in the breadbasket in front of you, it would take a lot of willpower to resist. But if I said you couldn’t have the delicious bread but you could have anything else you wanted, and you could have it right now, suddenly the bread would be easy to resist. An attractive alternative makes willpower less necessary. It frees up your stockpile of willpower for other uses. Under my system, all you need to do is eat as much as you want of anything that isn’t a simple carb and keep on that path for a few months.

Would this plan make you gain weight for a few months? For some people it might. But the short term doesn’t matter; you’re in this for the long haul. It’s a system, not a diet with a specific weight goal. Remember, goals are a trap. You want systems, not goals. The first part of the system is to break your addiction to simple carbs.

My experience is that after you break the addiction it isn’t hard to recover from the occasional french-fry binge. Food isn’t like alcohol, where one drink can set an alcoholic back to the bottom. Eating a piece of bread is only a pebble in the road for someone who has broken the carb addiction.

If for several months you give yourself permission to eat as much as you want of the foods that don’t include addictive simple carbs, you’ll discover several things. For starters, you’ll have more energy without the simple carbs. And that will translate into keeping you mover active, which in turn burns calories.

Another change you’ll notice after a few months without simple carbs is that your cravings will start to diminish. The sensation you feel as a preference for certain foods can be in reality more of an addiction than a true preference. For example, there was a long period in my life where I couldn’t go a whole day without eating a giant Snickers candy bar. The first bite created a feeling of euphoria that I enjoyed in every particle of my being. But after a few months of eating as much as I wanted of healthier food, I lost the craving for Snickers bars. What I thought was some sort of deep genetic disposition to like chocolate was actually more of an addiction.”

So, what should you eat instead? That’s a highly individual question, but here’s a starting point:

Peanuts, mixed nuts, protein bars, cheese, whole wheat pasta, edamame, broccoli, cauliflower, beef, chicken, fish, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sports, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, pears, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, quinoa, brown rice, berries, eggs, yogurt, butter, peppers,

What did you do this summer?

That’s going to be the most frequently-asked question in higher education next week. It’s worth pondering what your response is going to be, because “I worked a lot” is boring, even if it’s true.

Clay Hebert points out how often we get asked, “So, what do you do for a living?” We might get that question 80,000 times over the course of our lives, and we rarely have a good answer for it.

For instance, I say, “I’m a strength and conditioning coach.” Or, “I coach in the athletic department.” Sort of informative, but vague and mostly boring. Clay suggests we start using six-word introductions that follow this formula:

“I (help/teach/coach/motivate/etc.) (group) (change you’re trying to make).”

For instance, “I teach student-athletes how to take care of themselves, for life.”

It’s not any more informative than “strength and conditioning coach,” but it’s a lot more interesting, and it makes people want to know more. That’s key: make people want to know more.

Back to summer.

My bad example: “I worked at the fitness center desk all summer checking people in.” Boring, end of conversation.

My much better examples:

“I wrote 75 blog posts.”

“I started practicing yoga. I’m exploring ways to incorporate it into my work with athletes.”

“I bought a bike. I’m trying to see how infrequently I can use my car.”

“I started writing an e-book.”