You Have Nothing to Worry About. Truly.

Worry is like a rocking chair—it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.

Life is better when you let go of what you can’t control and focus on doing something about the stuff you have the capacity to change. 

So spend less time worrying and more time doing stuff to alleviate whatever it is you’re worrying about. 

You Are Confined Only By the Walls You Build Yourself.

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If you think or feel as though you’re not succeeding in some or multiple areas of your life right now, there’s a reason. 

The reason? You’ve built a wall. 

A wall that keeps you insulated from feeling life fully. A wall that keeps space between you and authentic relationships (romance, friends, family, etc.) so no one ever has the opportunity to hurt you (or so you think). A wall of self-taught lies about what you are and are not capable of. A wall of perception colored by worst case scenarios. A wall of unrelenting fear. 

I think it’s important to build walls. Really important. 

Because without them, there’s nothing to break through. There simply are no breakthroughs without walls. 

We are born wall-less. We acquire walls slowly over the course of our lives. Walls even get built faster at some points—usually during periods of trauma or distress. With every little hurt, we add a brick to our wall. 

We carve out meaning in our lives when we’re willing to take a hard look at the walls we’ve built and decide what needs to be broken down. We carve out more meaning in our lives when we take a hammer—otherwise known as courage—and start breaking down the bullshit stories we’ve been telling ourselves about how things are, who we are, what the past means, and what the future holds. 

If you want to be successful, there’s literally nothing stopping you aside from the walls you’ve built for yourself. 

Nelson Mandela found joy and peace in a jail cell. 

Anne Frank found joy and peace in an attic. 

Thoreau found joy and peace in an isolated forest. 

So many others find joy and peace in the midst of poverty, seclusion, illness, divorce, job loss, bankruptcy, and natural disaster.

So stop blaming where you are on your circumstances. Don’t blame it on other people. Don’t blame it on timing. 

Your perspective is up to you. The trajectory of your life is up to you.

When you blame other forces outside of yourself, that’s akin to building a wall and leaving your power on the other side of it. 

It’s time to start breaking those walls down. 

Because the truth is…

  • Someone is waiting to fall in love with exactly the person you are. 
  • An incredible employer is waiting to hire you for the talents you possess. 
  • Your perfect job is out there waiting to be found. 
  • You have everything it takes to get healthy and fit. 
  • There are opportunities out there for you to make extra income, just waiting for you to grab them. 
  • You are worthy of love. 
  • You can start a business right now. Maybe it’ll fail. Maybe it’ll succeed. If you’re following your heart and gut, it’ll be one of the best things you ever do either way. 
  • Joy is all around you, every day, all the time. 

You are not alone. There are thousands—if not millions—of people around the world struggling with the same fears, insecurities, and walls that you are right now. 

The difference between those who are ultimately successful and those who are not?

People who become successful are great at breaking down pre-existing walls and preventing new ones from going up. They knew the secret: everything they wanted was waiting for them on the other side of the walls they built. 

You’re no different. 

So if there’s something you want to change…

Go grab your hammer. 

 

In a Gentle Way, You Can Shake the World.

How does one change the world? 

I used to think it took a protest. Or being part of some exclusive group. Or having a lot of money. Or knowing the right people. Or being rudely loud about your cause. 

But I don’t that those are the ways to change the world, anymore. At least not the only ways—and not necessarily the best ways. 

The other day, I was listening to a radio program about Rosa Parks. It is said that, when the bus driver asked if Parks was going to give up the seat, she said, “No, I am not.” Then, the bus driver said, “Well, I’m going to have you arrested.” And you know what she said? “You may do that.” Rosa Parks was such a baller!

I love this story so much. I love it because it serves as a reminder that it doesn’t take a ton of money, connections, or loudness to make a difference. In fact, some of the most revered leaders in history were quiet, contemplative, and gentle decision makers. 

Rosa Parks wasn’t the first African American to refuse to give up a seat on a bus. But she was the first to do it with quiet dignity. 

I’m learning that being a catalyst for change isn’t always about being the hardest or loudest hitter. Sometimes, it’s about being the most quietly dignified. Sometimes, it’s about being the calmest decision maker. 

I’m learning that commanding change in a gentle way may just be the best way to shake the world. 

Three Invaluable Lessons About Habit Change

I’ve been on this crazy year-long habit change journey—I’m changing one habit every month for the entire year. In January, the habit change I focused on was moving to a 90% pesca-vegan diet. As I noted toward the end of the article, it’s important to understand your triggers. I didn’t like the mental energy of deciding when to cash-in my 10% non-vegan meals. So, I decided to take the guesswork out by keeping my non-vegan eating to Saturdays, if at all. And guess what, you guys? It’s working. I’m only two weeks into the new month, but so far, so great. I’m at a 90-95% pesca-vegan diet and I feel fantastic. There’s always room for tweaking, but it’s a ton of progress for just 6 short weeks. 

So, let me transition into my February habit change goal: creating a values- and goals-based budget, and sticking to that budget 100%. So what does that mean exactly? It means analyzing my budget to see where I’m spending money on things I don’t really value, as well as not saving or spending enough in the areas that I do value—and then adjusting my budget accordingly.

I’m going to share my February budget goal progress with you tomorrow.

But I have to confess something first. I failed at this goal already, because I waited eight days into February before I created my budget. Eight days! The thing about the goal is it required me planning it out before January 31st. It totally slipped my mind in the midst of everything else. 

But, I’m so glad I failed because I learned three invaluable lessons about habit change in the process. Here they are:

1.) Setting a goal is like creating a maximum achievement threshold. 

Strict and specific goals are great because they don’t allow you to negotiate with yourself. In other words, by saying “I’m going to stick to my budget 100% in February,” I left no room for negotiation. Some people say you have to plan for failure, but I think that’s dumb. As Will Smith said, “What’s the point in Plan B? It just distracts from Plan A.” Giving yourself wiggle room for failure is akin to creating lots of little Plan B’s.

I’m definitely not saying every month is going to be perfect. I have achieved neither my January nor February goals perfectly so far. We’re human, and perfection is just not realistic. However, I am a big believer in setting big, audacious goals and believing fully that they’re possible. If my goal in January was to move from a 50% pesca-vegan diet to a 70% pesca-vegan diet, I would’ve probably come in at about a 60-65% pesca-vegan diet. But, because I made my goal a 90% pesca-vegan diet, I made it to 85%. When you give yourself a goal, you automatically set a maximum achievement threshold. It’s frequent that we don’t quite reach the high bar the first time around; but it’s a hell of a lot more unlikely to reach above it. 

So, whatever your big, crazy goal truly is? Set that goal. Don’t lower the bar because you’re afraid of failure or want to leave room for error (which is the same thing, disguised in bullshit terms).

2.) Seriously, though. You’re not going to be perfect.

I know you know this…but because you’re a perfectionist, you’ll probably keep trying. I see right through you, sneaky!

In thinking about what held me back from creating a great budget for eight whole days into the month, I realize it was my struggle with the disease of perfectionism. It really is a disease because it creates dis-ease within us when we allow it to take over. 

I was using work, blogging daily, and a bunch of other random factors as excuses for not budgeting. I’m busy—but you know what? We’re all busy. If we don’t want something badly enough or we’re afraid of how badly we want something, we’ll find an excuse to push it off. This was a case of the latter. 

I felt like I needed to read the three top personal finance books cover to cover before I got started with creating mine. After all, my budget needed to be absolutely perfect, right? What a huge-ass roadblock I put in my own way! As I wrote about yesterday, I really believe that one of the big keys to staying committed to a goal or new habit is making it as easy as possible to change. I did exactly the opposite of that. 

The truth is, I didn’t need a perfect set of tools. I didn’t need to read multiple finance books cover to cover. I didn’t need to be perfect. All I really needed was an excel sheet, some time to think about my values and goals, and the willingness to create a simple budget around them. 

In fact, for perfectionists out there like me, you know the more tools, books, and rules you use will actually make it harder to stick to a budget—not easier. So, on the 9th day of February, I got down to making a simple, easy budget. I simplified budget categories and kept things really simple. I can’t wait share my values-centered budget plan and strategies with you tomorrow. 

3.) Approach failures strictly as opportunities to learn.

I could’ve said, “Melissa, you already failed at this month’s goal. Might as well give up now and try again another month.” And trust me, I tried to talk myself into it. But, that is not the mentality of a long-term winner. And I’m in this to be a long-term winner at the game of life. 

So, I decided to take my failure and cull out lessons. You just read two of them above. As a result of using my failure strictly as an opportunity to learn, I was able to pick myself out of lazy mode, dust off my excel skills, and create a budget. I mean, honestly, who cares if it was 8 days late? The point is getting shit done—even if it’s not in the timeframe you initially hoped for or imagined. 

When you look at some of the most accomplished people in life, I can promise you they have at least one major trait in common: they use failure as fuel by turning setbacks into opportunities to learn some important lessons. That’s really all it takes. 

If you want to be successful at habit change—or really anything—you need to change your relationship with failure right now.

The next time you fail or face a setback, I want you to immediately look for the lesson you’re supposed to learn. It’s there—lessons are everywhere. And those lessons are ultimately what allow you to move forward bigger and better the next time around. 

So what habit are you changing? What lessons are you learning?

I can’t wait to hear about them. 

My Journey to Becoming a Super Healthy Sorta Vegan. And 5 Success Strategies That Will Help You Get Super Healthy, Too.

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I recently talked about how to become a rockstar at habit change. I’m changing one habit every single month for the entire year. 

My habit change for January 2013 was moving from about a 40% pesca-vegan diet to a 90% pesca-vegan diet. Basically, no animal products (i.e. meat eggs, and dairy). I decided to still eat fish and honey (there is just no way in hell I’m giving up sushi or honey, ever). 

I didn’t decide to pursue veganism for animal or environmental reasons (though, I’m glad that my desired long-term diet is better for the environment and kinder to animals). It really started once I watched Forks Over Knives, which I was compelled to see after reading Nicole Antoinette’s blog post about temporary veganism.

I know, guys. It sounds ridiculous. I’ve watched plenty of food-related documentaries before. But, so many of them are political, and this one is downright personal, a little scary, and impossible to ignore. I would highly recommend that everyone watch that documentary. 

I’ll probably talk about veganism more this year, but if you’re interested in learning more about in the meantime, here are some incredible resources on the topic:

Here was the outcome of my January habit change, as well as the success techniques I learned along the way.

Results: 

  • Before January 1st, I was eating a fair amount of animal products, including chicken, some beef, milk, cream, and cheese. But, I was already beginning to take an interest in veganism, so I was probably at around a 40% pesca-vegan diet. In the past 31 days, I’ve moved to around an 80-85% pesca-vegan diet. It’s not perfect—not quite 90%—but I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made. I attribute almost all of it to my dedication to changing one habit at a time. 
  • Without exercising hardly at all (except for walking a lot), I lost around 4 pounds. 
  • I have more energy, mental clarity, and focus than I did on December 31, 2012. 
  • Choosing foods at restaurants is a lot easier, since I only have a few options to choose from usually. Somehow, I don’t find this restrictive or unfair; I find it to be a relief. Now, making decisions at restaurants is less taxing. 
  • I don’t think about food as much or feel as consumed by it as I once did. 

Success strategies I learned: 

  • Prepare for challenging situations. It’s tough to eat out at restaurants when you’re a vegan because you don’t have control over what they offer or how they prepare the food. So, now I offer to choose the restaurant when I’m going out to eat. I decide what I’m going to order before I get there so I’m not tempted to order something else. 
  • Mitigate risk. I go to a lot of events in the evenings for work. There are always a crapload of food options available that are the opposite of vegan (translation: pizza). When I know I’m going to an event, I’ll pack a homemade dinner or heavy snack, or I’ll pick up something Vegan on my way there. 
  • Figure out what your weakness is. My weakness is cheese (Yummmmm) and omelettes (with cheese, of course) at brunch on the weekends. These two things accounted for my 15-20% non-vegan eating this month. I want to leave room for cheese and the occasional brunch omelette every now and again in the future. But, now that I’ve identified my triggers, I’m going to test out a few other strategies next month to get up to a 90-95% vegan diet, like choosing one specific day a week to have cheese and eggs (I’m thinking Saturdays). 
  • Once you mess up, it’s easier to give yourself excuses. So do your best to stick to a goal 100%. I think I made it harder for myself by choosing to go 90% vegan instead of completely vegan. But, I wanted to be more realistic, as this is a change I want to keep for the rest of my life. If you can, make your goal all-or-nothing. Don’t give yourself an out. For instance, I gave myself an all-or-nothing goal (different from a habit) to blog every day this year. So far, I’m 32 for 32. There’s no way I’m going to let myself fail. If you’re that kind of person and super determined, create habit changes where you don’t give yourself an out. 
  • Have a strong reminder. Figure out a way to remind yourself of why you really want to change your habit. Carry around something small and symbolic to remind you of why this habit change is so important to you. You’ll be a lot more likely to connect with that end goal in moments of lost willpower or motivation-less days. 

I’m going to be maintaining my January habit work and even making some tweaks to get closer to my desired goal: a 90% pesca-vegan diet. 

Now it’s on to February’s goal: Create a budget (I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t think “budget is a dirty word) based on my goals and values. Evaluate what really matters to me. And stick to that budget 100%.

BOOM. Let’s do this. 

Tired of Your Bad Habits? Here’s the Secret Sauce You Need to Really Change Them.

On a scale of “I have really crappy habits that I don’t know how to change” to “I’m totally kicking ass at life,” where do you fall? If you’re reading this, you probably have a habit or six you really want to change. If you don’t…you have bigger problems. Look, truthfully, we all get into the habit of doing things that don’t serve us well or take our lives in the direction we want them to go. From observing my friends and acquaintances over the last few months, here are some of the habits I’m seeing people out there struggle with:
 
  • Procrastination
  • Staying productive
  • Lack of exercise
  • Eating crappy
  • Overworking
  • Getting into credit card debt
  • Drinking too much
  • Not sleeping enough
  • Smoking
  • Spending too much money eating out
  • Staying in unhealthy relationships
  • Trying to obtain self-worth from dating/relationships
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Letting emails pile up and not answering them for weeks or months at a time
  • Too much time on social media sites
  • Too much time watching TV
  • Too much time browsing the Internet
 
…any of these sound familiar to you? There are several on this list that I struggle with myself. In fact, I can’t think of a single person I know who isn’t struggling with at least a couple of these bad habits. And this isn’t even close to the full list of crappy habits out there.
 
I bet even reading that list is overwhelming a bunch of you. “Oh. my. gosh. I have so much to do! So much to change! Where do I start? How will I get myself to break out of all the bad habits I have? What if I fail? Can I really change?”
 
Yeah. I used to have mental breakdowns about all the habits I wanted to change and adopt, too.
 
This past month, though, something has shifted in me. I got so sick of hearing people say that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Because that’s false. Hell yeah, they work. The problem is, “resolving” to do something different is only the first step. You also have to: 1.) figure out exactly and specifically what you want to resolve, 2.) create a detailed plan for making your resolution happen, and 3.) change bad habits (aka rituals) and exchange them for great ones.
 
We totally forget to do these last three crucial things. And when it comes to the third part, so few of us actually take the time to commit to a set of habits we want to change.
 
The other big problem is that if you’ve tried to change your habits before and haven’t been successful, there’s a seed of doubt in your mind about your ability to actually change a habit. You need to get rid of that seed of doubt now, because it will percolate in your head and make just about any habit change impossible, especially once your initial motivation to change dwindles (and it will).
 
There’s an easy way to do this:
FOCUS ON CHANGING ONE HABIT AT A TIME.
So, the secret sauce is that simple: it’s all about focus. 
 
Now, if you’re anything like me, right about now you’re thinking, “But Melissa, that’s going to take too long! Can I focus on two at a time? How about three?” Yeah, I know. The idea of just doing one thing at a time seems…painful. But think about it: it takes so much energy to unlearn an engrained behavior—and the more you engage in a behavior, like eating crappy, smoking, procrastinating, etc.—the harder it is to change it on willpower and motivation alone.
 
The great news is that if you can focus on one habit at a time, it will change your life forever (unless you decide to be an idiot and re-learn a crappy habit). It’s kind of the difference between putting a band-aid on an open wound, or getting stitches right away so it actually heals properly and you never have to worry about it again.
 
I finally surrendered to the idea of tackling one big habit change every month during 2013—a total of 12 new habits—and I have to say, I’m off to a pretty solid start in month #1. I’m confident enough now to write about it and say there’s power in this strategy:
Focus on changing or adopting one new habit per month for the next 12 months.
 
You can, of course, do your best to make headway with the other 11 habits you want to change. But in terms of total commitment, I want you to just focus on one at a time. If all of your energy is placed on just one habit, you are about 10x’s more likely to change it than if your motivation, willpower, commitment, and energy is scattered amongst a number of challenging habit changes.
 
Tomorrow, I’m going to use myself as a case study and tell you about the 12 habits I’m changing this year. I’ll also tell you about some success strategies I’ve learned and cultivated in month #1. Finally, I’ll give you a specific habit change action plan to take the guesswork out of it and make habit change an incredibly easy process for you (assuming you’re totally dedicated to transforming pre-existing habits).
 
In the meantime, start thinking today about the habits you most want to change or adopt. Think about what might have the greatest positive impact on your life if you stopped or started doing something habitually. 
 
I’ll show you tomorrow what to do with the personal habit list you come up with today. 

Nothing is Ever What it Seems. Read Between the Lines.

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Nothing is ever what it seems. 

One lesson I’ve learned this past year: first impressions are bullshit. 

At best, we get the gist of who someone is. However, every single person has a unique story, woven together by countless life experiences. We couldn’t possibly unravel all of who someone is the first time we meet them. 

But the more surprising lesson I’ve learned is that even when you think you really know people, sometimes you still don’t. That’s because people aren’t static, and neither are you. Sometimes, you see in others what you want to see. Sometimes, you see what they want you to see. 

We all craft stories about other people based on who we want them to be and who they want us to believe they are.

If you really want to get to know the heart of who someone is, explore the non-obvious. Don’t make crazy assumptions. Trust your gut feelings. Ask better questions

And read between the lines of the answers. 

How to Determine if You’re Going to Be Successful

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Please exit out of passive reading mode, because I’m about to ask you to do something important. If you don’t have 10 minutes right now, stop reading this and come back to it later. 

(…I know more than half of you are thinking to yourself that you don’t have the time, but you’re going to keep skimming anyway. Because that’s what we do. We like instant gratification, right? Unfortunately, this post won’t be nearly as meaningful if you just read it to absorb the gist of it. So I truly hope you’ll take the time to sit down and do this. It’ll be 10 minutes well spent. Promise.)

Now, I want you to genuinely reflect on everything that’s happened in your life over the past 7 days—the decisions you made, interactions you had, emails you received, meetings you attended, meals you enjoyed, etc. Write down the highlights, good and bad, of each of the last 7 days of your life. 

Once you have your list of highlights from the past week, grab a pen and paper (old school style!). Using your highlights list as a guide, read each of the bullets on the list below and put one tally mark next to the one in each pair that best described you on each of the past 7 days. 

Example:

  • Had a sense of gratitude         III
  • Had a sense of entitlement     IIII

There should be 7 tally marks in total for each pair—one to represent the theme of each day of the past week for you.

Here are the pairs:

  • Had a sense of entitlement
  • Had a sense of gratitude
  • Criticized more than I complimented
  • Complimented more than I criticized
  • Was more likely to hold a grudge
  • Was more likely to be forgiving
  • Took credit for other people’s victories
  • Gave other people credit for their victories
  • Blamed other people, things, and circumstances for my failures
  • Accepted responsibility for my failures
  • Watched TV more than I read
  • Read more than I watched TV
  • Didn’t actively reflect on my life
  • Actively reflected on my life (via journal, blog, audio or video recording, etc.)
  • Secretly hoped someone would fail
  • Deeply wanted someone to succeed
  • Thought I knew it all and didn’t embrace new opinions
  • Admitted I didn’t know it all and opened myself up to learning
  • Operated from a transactional perspective
  • Operated out of a desire to truly transform situations
  • Talked about other people, sometimes in negative ways
  • Talked about ideas more than I talked about other people
  • Hoarded information and data more than I shared it
  • Shared information and data rather than hoarded it
  • Felt paralyzed by fear of change
  • Decided to embrace change
  • Flew by the seat of my pants
  • Was intentional about writing down and sticking to my “to-do/project” list
  • Exuded anger more than joy
  • Exuded joy more than anger
  • Didn’t set any goals
  • Did set goals and develop life plans
  • Didn’t have a clear sense of who I wanted to be
  • Actively kept/reflected on my “to-be” list, and lived accordingly

Once your tally marks are all down on paper, count up the number of successful behaviors vs. unsuccessful behaviors (I’m sure this is obvious, but the first one in each pair represents the unsuccessful behavior; the second one is the successful behavior). 

Which side wins? Were you surprised? What unsuccessful behaviors have you been engaging in more often than not that you need to let go of now? What successful behaviors are you actually really good at, and could be more conscious about cultivating going forward? 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you saying it now: “Seven days isn’t a big enough sample size,” or, “The last week was particularly challenging.”

When are we going to stop giving ourselves excuses for living mediocre lives? 

For illustrative purposes, I’ll use myself as an example. When I did this exercise, I realized that out of the last 7 days, I’ve spent more time holding a grudge and being upset about something than I’ve spent being in a state of forgiveness and acceptance about it. I’ve been failing this week at exuding the kind of joy I actually feel about all the things going right in my life, just because one thing is going not-so-right. 

I loved doing this exercise because it was a healthy wake-up call to get over myself. And whatever unsuccessful behaviors you’re engaging in right now, you need to come to terms with those tally marks and get over yourself, too. 

Think I’m being harsh?

The reality is that today may be the last day you get. THE LAST DAY YOU GET. 

To me, that notion isn’t depressing or upsetting; it’s sobering. If these past 7 days were your last 7 days—the only 7 days people remembered about the way you lived your life—how would you be remembered? What would people say? What would you be proud of? What would you regret? 

Here’s the thing. Few of us take adequate time to stop and reflect on who we’re becoming.  So, while it seems harmless that you criticized someone or watched TV or held a quiet grudge this past week, it matters. It matters because one week of behaviors quickly turns into two, and then 4, and then 40, and then 400. And, if you aren’t paying close attention, you’ll wake up one day wondering how you got to be so critical, resentful, and addicted to television. 

Habits are sneaky like that. 

If you want something to be different, then change your damn behavior. If you want to be successful, stop thinking and behaving like an unsuccessful person. And the level of your willingness and commitment to doing something about the last two sentences?

That’s how you can determine if you’re going to be successful.

Source: facebook.com

If you ask anyone you consider to be successful how they got to be successful, they will inevitably say something to the effect of, “I worked my tail off.” 
When you make up in your mind that you are going to do something and work tirelessly to bring your dream to life, one of two (or both) things will happen:
1.) You will achieve the outcome you set out to create. 
2.) You will learn a crazy amount about yourself, your passions, your world. 
Either way, you win. Given these two outcomes, you are guaranteed success by default the moment you decide to pursue the crap out of what you love. 
So keep dreaming. Keep creating possibilities. Keep getting your hands dirty with the work it takes to bring those possibilities to life.
The future belongs to you.

If you ask anyone you consider to be successful how they got to be successful, they will inevitably say something to the effect of, “I worked my tail off.” 

When you make up in your mind that you are going to do something and work tirelessly to bring your dream to life, one of two (or both) things will happen:

1.) You will achieve the outcome you set out to create. 

2.) You will learn a crazy amount about yourself, your passions, your world. 

Either way, you win. Given these two outcomes, you are guaranteed success by default the moment you decide to pursue the crap out of what you love. 

So keep dreaming. Keep creating possibilities. Keep getting your hands dirty with the work it takes to bring those possibilities to life.

The future belongs to you.