How to Schedule Time For Uninterrupted Focus

In an era of constant distraction, it can be difficult to prioritise our responsibilities over short-term, immediate pleasures.

It can be a challenge to deal with important things that are vying for our attention if our focus is always wandering.

But it’s not just focus that we often seem to lack in getting work done.

Scott Belsky in Making Ideas Happen stresses that “organisation is just as important as ideas when it comes to making an impact.”

In his book, Scott uses a very simple equation to illustrate how crucial organisation is to making an impact through your efforts. The equation is:

Creativity x Organisation = Impact

So let’s imagine a super creative person (creativity  = 100) who struggles to organise himself (organisation = 0) and structure his time to funnel his creativity into something substantial:

100 x 0 = 0

Scott calls this person “someone who has loads of ideas but is so disorganised that no one particular ideas is fully realised.”

Well, let’s consider another person who might not be as creative as the creative genius, but is slightly more organised and can get more things done as a result. The equation looks like so:

50 x 2 = 100

Although this person isn’t as creative, he manages to get some work done and has more of an impact because he is just a little bit more organised than the creative genius mentioned earlier.

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Happiness is…photography via Flickr

Here’s Scott on this:

“a shocking and perhaps unfortunate realisation emerges: someone with average creativity but stellar organisational skills will make a greater impact than the disorganised creative geniuses among us.”

I don’t know about you, but when I first read this I was absolutely blown away as to how crucial a productivity system can be in making your ideas happen.

It’s incredibly sad to think that some creative geniuses out there might not have a process or productivity system that would help them funnel their bursts of creativity and because of this lack of structure, they rarely get their ideas out there.

It’s also quite interesting to begin to think that a lot of the world’s most creative people might not actually be all that creative after all. They might not even be the best the world has to offer.

But they are more organised than the geniuses and that’s why their ideas are out there.

So how can we make sure that we become both a) focused so that we are most efficient in our work, and b) organised enough to make our ideas happen?

The answer is focus blocks.

Schedule blocks of time for uninterrupted focus

Cal Newport describes focus blocks as follows:

“It has you block off a substantial chunk of time, most days of the week, for applying sustained focus to your most important creative tasks.

This scheduling usually happens at the beginning of a new week or at the end of the previous week. The key twists is that you mark this time on your calendar like any other meeting.”

-Cal Newport, in Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.

Just by actively committing to blocking off an hour or two for uninterrupted focus ahead of time will help you build some structure and focus into your work ethic.

This technique initially requires a little bit of discipline. Anything worthwhile doing in life does. When in these focus blocks, dedicate your undivided attention to the work at hand.

If you get distracted, it’s game over. Cal suggests to cancel your focus block and try again next time.

It’s easy to fall prey to distractions in the moment and to belittle these focus block. But don’t fall into the ‘mindset of the now. You scheduled this focus block with good reason, with a reason to get some quality work done.

What I like about focus blocks is that they are a ‘meeting with myself’ in some sense. This way, whenever I meet someone later who tried to get a hold of me during my focus block, I tell them that I already had a scheduled appointment. More on that here by Cal:

“People are used to the idea that they cannot demand your attention during times when you already have a scheduled appointment.

The focus block technique takes advantage of this understanding to buy you some time for undistracted focus without the need for excessive apology or explanation.”

A focus block doesn’t have to relate only to finishing quality work, though.

For instance, I choose to frame my morning and evening commute to university as a focus block for reading. This why I don’t mind travelling that much.

I get to read a book. It’s a focus block I have dedicated to reading.

Sure, sometimes I can’t focus. Especially on the morning train ride. But I always take a book out and try to read it.

Sometimes I manage to get out of my funk, sometimes I don’t and read only a couple of pages.

Most times though, I get a decent amount of reading done. Thanks to this habit, I manage to finish books that would’ve been otherwise half-read and lying around somewhere in my room for a tiny eternity.

Closing Thoughts

Blocking off time for the specific purpose of dedicating it to uninterrupted focus is an important first step to organising your time for consistent maximum productivity.

But how do you make sure you make the most of your scheduled focus block?

If you want to learn some handy psychological tricks that will help you make the most of your focus blocks you should read this.

But you can’t be productive indefinitely so be mindful of how long you schedule your focus blocks for.

How long should these focus blocks be so that you maximise your productivity? You can read about that here.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more life-optimising stuff.

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001: Psychology Of Physical Sensation: Interview With Christopher Eccleston [Podcast]

In this inaugural podcast episode, I sit down to chat with Christopher Eccleston who is a professor at the University of Bath, UK, and a leading researcher in the area of pain research.

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Embodied: The Psychology of Physical Sensation, by Christopher Eccleston, Oxford University Press.

We talk about Chris’ most eye-opening discoveries in his area of pain research, why men don’t attend to pain stimuli enough, the 10 neglected senses, the link between breathing and panic, and the similarities between yawning and itching as evolutionary behaviours.

Listen to the podcast

Show highlights

In this episode, Chris and I discuss:

  • The life of a leading researcher in the area of pain research [1:01]
  • Why some admit pain into their conscious awareness while others are better at distracting themselves from experiencing pain [2:34]
  • Why men don’t pay enough attention to pain stimuli [4:19]
  • Some of Christopher’s most eye-opening discoveries in his field [5:07]
  • The neglected senses and why aren’t they widely accepted yet [7:13]
  • What the 10 neglected senses are [9:53]
  • What the neglected sense of breathing can teach us about stress, anxiety, and panic [11:40]
  • Panic being caused by hypoventilation, not hyperventilation [13:35]
  • The neglected sense of itching, why we scratch, and whether itching is a useful sense or one that is harmful [14:51]
  • The problem of itching [17:19]
  • The comparison of itching and yawning as adaptive evolutionary behaviours [18:38]

Quotes

  • “As men, we don’t attend to pain enough. We don’t attend to signals of possible danger or injury.”

On the dominance of vision in our culture: “Vision is most dominant of all. If you look narratively in our culture, at many of our metaphors, much of our language is very visually orientated. We say ‘see you later’, we say ‘it is interesting how you look at that’…language in our lives is very visually dominated.”

  • “We can understand that children can only understand certain things so let’s start with the Big Five (vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch). But I think psychology has no excuse.”

On why there are neglected senses: “If I’m really going to be contentious, I think it comes from the lack of understanding of the history of psychology.”

  • “Because you’re breathing all the time, very quickly you are seconds away from the terror of being suffocated, at any point, at anytime as you move around your life.”

On the link between breathing and panic: “It could be exactly the opposite. That you are hyperventilating and have been for some time. It might be triggering a suffocation response, an appropriate suffocation response which leads you to panic, which makes you want to breathe more.”

Resources

***

Special thanks to Christopher Eccleston and a big thank you to Jeff Goins for being an inspiration.

Don’t Fall into The Mindset of The Now: A Post Based On Behavioural Economics Principles

Don’t Fall into The Mindset of The Now: A Post Based On Behavioural Economics Principles

A friend of mine (let’s call him John) told me that he was planning to apply for a vacation scheme at a well-known firm. The company accepted applications on a rolling basis so he was reluctant to leave his application until too late.

The deadline for all applications was the 1st of December.

But John told me that he’d set himself a self-imposed deadline of the 15th of November, knowing full well why he had done so. He wanted to apply a few weeks before the deadline to make sure his application would be considered.

Leading up to his self-imposed deadline however, John was increasingly worried that it might have already been be a bit too late to apply.

He kept worrying that the firm might have received enough applications by then to close the application process early.

Each day leading up to his self-imposed deadline of the 15 of November he kept worrying, the pressure and uncertainty mounting with each passing day.

A few weeks later I check in with John. It was the 26th of November and he still hadn’t submitted his application.

But this time round, his mindset and reasoning was drastically different than before.

“It should be fine” he said.

Mere days before the actual application deadline, he’s rationalising the situation to his advantage as to why he left it so late. He’s trying to convince himself that the situation is under control and that everything is fine.

This is the mindset of the now.

And deep down, John knows that he fell prey to it.

 

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Extra Medium via Flickr

The friction between two mindsets

Why was my friend so worried before?

And why was he so relaxed weeks later when in fact the situation was much worse than before?

After all, the decision to finish the application before the self-imposed deadline was the decision that had a greater overall value to him.

Finishing the application before this deadline was a rational decision on his part. He felt that this would maximise his chances of his application being properly reviewed.

Then why did he totally disregard that mindset? In other words – why did he fall into the mindset of now?

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You could say that there was a lapse in preparation and organisation on his part. He procrastinated. He failed to gather his resources and allocate an appropriate amount of time and effort to get this task out of the way.

Oh how many times we’ve tried to explain these types of situations using these general statements.

In reality though, this sort of thing boils down to a few core psychological principles that, once you know of and are cognisant of, you can counteract and use them to your advantage.

 

The processes behind the mindset of the now

Ever postponed an application like that? Or a personal statement or cover letter that you had to send to an employer?

What about planning to be productive over the weekend but once it loomed large you just wanted to chill and lie in bed all day?

Or what about setting up plans with a friend for a hang out in a week’s time only to cancel when the time came because you were too tired, couldn’t be bothered, or neither of you guys didn’t follow through with each other in the end?

These are classical examples of where we fall into the mindset of the now and that can be best explained with the combination of two psychological concepts: construal level theory and delay discounting. 

Let’s break it down.

The future is abstract, the present is concrete

According to temporal construal theory, the more distant an event is (i.e. a deadline, the weekend) the more abstract that event will be thought of. Conversely, the closer an event is in time, the more concretely it will be thought of.

Because distant events are viewed in abstract terms and are generally gist-based (i.e. lack details), we don’t realise how many little practicalities have to be done once they get closer in time.

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Michael Veltman via Flickr

Let’s look at a neat experiment by Liberman and Trope (1998) that investigates how we go about planning our life and perfectly shows what we are talking about.

In their experiment, psychology students chose an assignment based on reading a textbook chapter which was either easy (i.e. based on readings in Hebrew, the students’ native language), or difficult (i.e. based on readings in English, a foreign language for these students).

More, they could choose the topic of the assignment based on how interesting it was.

They could either choose an interesting topic (i.e. “gender differences in jealousy and romantic love”) or a dull topic (i.e. “historical trends in social psychology”).

There were two deadlines for the assignment. The deadline was either for next week or in 9 weeks’ time.

It was found that when the focus was on “next week”, the students preferred:

  • The interesting topic to the dull topic
  • The easy assignment to the difficult assignment

In this scenario, what mattered for the students is the mindset of ‘how do I get this thing out of the way with as little hassle as only possible’. They wanted to free themselves of the burden of coursework so that they can shift their focus to more enjoyable things.

When focus was on the deadline of the assignment in 9-weeks’ time however, the students showed exactly the opposite trend. They preferred the dull topic to the interesting one, and the difficult assignment to the easy one.

In this scenario, the long-term effect of their university experience mattered to them more. That is, they wanted to challenge themselves as a psychologist, and expand their interests, and develop into a more well-rounded individual.

This is why they were perhaps more inclined to choose the dull, difficult assignment as it would be great learning experience and opportunity for them to grow.

***

So let’s consider my friend with his application problem once again.

For him, it was easy to say that he’ll finish the application next week.

But once that day approaches he didn’t realise that he had to think of practicalities like researching the company’s websites, tailoring your CV to accentuate your strengths, and thinking of what to write in your cover letter.

Sometimes, you realise that there are too many practical things that need to be done. It’s too much effort, it’s time consuming, and so we postpone.

Smaller-Sooner > Larger-Later

But we also tend to postpone because of delay discounting which is the process of devaluing future outcomes (e.g. Green and Myerson, 2004). Essentially, it concerns the overvaluing of smaller-sooner rewards and discounting the value of future larger-later rewards.

To illustrate this, consider an interesting experiment by Read, Lowenstein, and Kalyanaraman (1999) which shows just how delay discounting can influence our decisions about which movie to watch.

Read and colleagues presented their participants with two choices of movies: “Sleepless in Seattle”(i.e. a low-brow movie ) and “Schindler’s List” (i.e. a high-brow movie).

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“Sleepless in Seattle” is a classic romantic-comedy that offers a few laughs and a predictable story, but on the whole is a enjoyable movie to watch when you’re in a mood to just chillout and watch something that isn’t challenging.

“Schindler’s List” is more of a high brow movie and is the more intellectually stimulating option of the two.

In the experiment, participants were asked two questions:

  • Which movie would you like to watch today?
  • Which movie would you like to watch next week?

It was found that participants preferred to watch “Sleepless in Seattle” today and watch “Schindler’s List” in a week’s time.

When the future was far away (i.e. a week away), they chose the option to watch a high-brow movie. They wanted to have an intellectually stimulating experience. This is supportive of construal level theory mentioned earlier.

However, they experienced a present-bias in present moment, opting for a low-brow movie for today.

That is, the option of watching a low brow movie was overvalued in the present moment at the expense of watching a high brow, insightful movie that could have possibly given them a new perspective on things.

In the present moment, they just wanted to relax and watch something that wasn’t challenging at all. The smaller-sooner reward of relaxing was overvalued at the expense of a larger-later reward of enjoying an enriching movie experience.

***

So when you plan to be more productive over the weekend ahead of time, you realise that you value getting some constructive work done over the weekend (i.e. larger-later reward) more than simply relaxing (i.e. smaller-sooner reward).

But once the weekend approaches, you realise you prefer to relax or get drunk and indulge in instant gratification (i.e. smaller-sooner reward) at the expense of getting some constructive work done (i.e. larger-later reward).

That’s because relaxing or getting drunk has become a present-biased preference whereby the value of that behaviour is overvalued in the present moment while the value of getting some work done is heavily discounted.

How can we fight against the mindset of the now?

It’s easy to fall into the mindset of the now.

But the part of you from a week ago, a few days ago, or even 2 hours ago wanted to achieve something, wanted to get things done. That’s why you had told yourself to get things done over the weekend. That’s why you had set yourself a self-imposted deadline.

Very often, we are our own worst enemies and get in our own way in doing the work that matters to us most.

How can we help ourselves?

We can use various commitment devices. 

These are supposed to help you follow through on promises you may have made to yourself a while back.

So if you want to meet your friend next week, use a commitment device of making reservations or buying cinema/concert tickets. This will make sure that both of you find the time for each other.

If you want to work on your application form or any other valuable piece of work that needs your attention – head out to the library or to your favourite cafe where you know you’ll be efficient. This will bring you one step closer to getting proper work done.

(If you want to read more about commitment devices, stay tuned for an upcoming post.)

It’s important to know of our inherent psychological tendencies.

By being cognisant of them, we can counteract these natural tendencies and use them to our advantage.

P.S. Thanks for reading! If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

 

Forget Your Weaknesses, Focus On Your Strengths

We live in a world that glorifies failures, weaknesses, and mistakes.

By the same token, our journey for self-improvement seems to be too focused on an ingrained need to address our lagging qualities.

Always wanting to improve is a good thing. After all, if you don’t improve then you’re not moving forward.

As Scott Belsky poignantly writes in Making Ideas Happen:

“You don’t need to see a finish line in sight but you do need enough momentum to stay afloat. When you stop moving, the music stops.”

But too often we strive for improvement just by focusing on what we’re bad at, what we can’t do well, and what we’re criticised for.

Sure, addressing our weak spots is always a good place to start.

This is why constructive feedback is one of the best ways of helping us improve. Such feedback on our weaknesses is valuable, especially if the person giving it has your best interests at heart.

But this emphasis on weakness makes us forget about the things we are actually good at. We don’t pay enough attention to our strengths which are the skills we should always strive to leverage in life.

We should make the most of our gifts and use our talents to our advantage.

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shannonblue via Flickr

Sadly, some people don’t even know what they’re good at. How should they?

To a person who has remarkable social acuity and social saavy, their ability to navigate the social world is second-nature to them. It’s so automatic that they might be unaware of their gift.

So what if you knew what your gifts were and focused more on making the most of them? Focused on improving and refining what you’ve already got a penchant for; on what you’ve always been good at?

In this article, you will learn of an interesting feedback technique that encourages improvement by focusing on your strengths and refining these gifts. Hopefully, it will help you in your business, group projects, relationships, and in making your ideas happen.

Appreciations: a strength-focused form of feedback

In his book Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky recounts the peculiar teachings of Jay O’Callahan who he describes as “one of the greatest storytellers in the world – a true master of his craft.” Here’s Scott on O’Callahan’s practice:

“Appreciations is a technique that O’Callahan and other storytellers use to improve students’ skills without any demoralising consequences. It’s a unique form of feedback that helps creative professionals focus on developing their strengths.

Here’s the concept behind appreciations: having just shared a story (or, in other contexts, a presentation or idea), you go around and ask people to comment on the elements they most appreciated.

The exchange of appreciations is meant to help you build upon your strength, with the underlying assumption that a creative craft is made extraordinary through developing your strengths rather than obsessing over your weaknesses.

And I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone’s strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasised.”

The significance of appreciations

We’ve learned that through appreciations, strengths will be built upon and weakness will naturally be lessened as a result. This is an important end-result of this strength-focused form of feedback.

But how do appreciations facilitate the process of improvement? What is it about appreciations that make them so important?

Jeff Goins in his book The Art of Work draws on the example of Ellen Frank, who owns a small studio where she practices a way of teaching that is similar to O’Callahan’s appreciations. 

As Jeff writes in his book, Ellen teaches “a handful of interns the art of illuminations, a technique that involves using gold to embellish sacred documents”.

In her teachings, she places an emphasis on the profound effect that validation in “a first-hand mentorship from an experienced artist can have on an apprentice.” Here’s Ellen:

“They [apprentices] also acquire validation. It’s not teaching through critique. It’s not teaching through judging their own work. It’s teaching through saying, ‘yes, and why not try this?’ and, ‘yes, can you push this further?

Goins then further clarifies the significance of this sort of encouraging feedback:

“With soothing words of affirmation and phrases that build anticipation, like ‘this is the magic moment,’ she helps you feel the significance of what you’re doing, which in turn leads to confidence.

Some interns, she admits, have even become better than she is at certain techniques. This is the power of the process. A good apprenticeship isn’t about an exchange of information; it’s about passing on the skill of the master and multiplying it.”

So we see how important these appreciations might be, especially in young people with a budding talent. Appreciations accentuate our own strengths and the strengths of others through encouragement, validation, affirmation, and confidence.

Importantly, appreciations give a sense of significance to whatever it is that we are doing right and encourages to continue doing this behaviour with a purpose.

As a culture, we are too weakness-oriented

As Belsky recounts in his book Making Ideas Happen, Jay O’Callahan emphasises our culture’s fixation on weakness and how it’s affecting our ability to see the beauty in our own strengths. Here’s Jay:

“It’s strange that, in our culture, we are trained to look for weaknesses (…) When I work with people, they are often surprised when I point out the wonderful crucial details – the parts that are alive. (…) If our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose the intuition to notice the beauty.”

So does the answer then lie in beginning to share feedback that applauds our strengths?

Possibly.

But Scott Belsky says it might not be that simple. He goes on to write that because of our weakness-fixated culture, we might fundamentally struggle to share appreciations. Here’s Scott:

“The ability to recognise and share appreciations may, in fact, be more difficult than offering constructive criticism. Humankind is critical by nature. It is easier to hear an off note in a symphony than to identify the perfectly played note that makes all the difference.”

It seems as though we need to find some middle ground between criticism, constructive feedback, and appreciations in the effort to properly emphasise what our strengths are without focusing too much on our lagging qualities.

Closing Thoughts

Appreciations are an unconventional form of feedback but definitely have a lot of merit.

The fact that people resort to such techniques is indicative of a more pressing problem.

That our culture is fixated on focusing on our weaknesses and lagging qualities at the expense of our strengths, robbing us of the awareness we need to actively devote the sufficient attention it takes to properly build upon our gifts.

Sharing appreciations helps build a positive ecosystem of emotion with the people that you share them with. Appreciations builds team chemistry and strong rapport on an individual scale.

They give budding talent guidance and a sense of significance to their effort. They literally rewire your brain to scan the world for positive things, in turn influencing your overall well-being and happiness.

Now that you have read this, you know how much of an impact you can have on someone by appreciating their strengths.

Your feedback for someone could make a world of difference.

6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Better Control Your Cravings

I am in two minds. And so are you.

According to scientists Metcalfe and Mischel, our minds are governed by two operating systems: one is ‘hot’ and the other is ‘cool’.

The hot system is the fast, automatic, reflexive, and impulsive part of the brain that persuades you into thinking procrastination, eating chocolate whenever you get the chance, and flirting with other people’s girlfriends are all good ideas.

The cool system is the slow, deliberative, reflective, and rational part of the brain that makes informed decisions concerning your long-term well being.

The ‘hot’ system is responsible for your cravings and the ‘cool’ system for your willpower.

Naturally, these two systems are in constant conflict with one another.

And because willpower is a finite resource and it seems like cravings can be never-ending, we can have a difficult time controlling our cravings.

In this article you will learn constructive tips on how to help your willpower out and better control your cravings.

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gino.mempin via Flickr

Make it difficult to satisfy your cravings

If you wrap your chocolate in tin foil, stash in a plastic box, and put it into your freezer then you won’t really want to go through all that hassle of eating it.

Similarly, if it’s easily accessible (i.e. just sitting there in front of you) you’ll snatch it without giving it a second thought.

That’s why it’s good to mine your home with healthy snacks so that when you do experience cravings, you have a healthy substitute to indulge in.

Practice mindfulness 

“It is awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of the experience moment-by-moment”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003)

The mindfulness approach encourages people to accept their difficult thought and feelings rather than working against them.

Rather than giving in to your cravings, you can surf them (i.e. urge surfing) by bringing awareness to these cravings.

This will help you be more willing to experience these feelings. 

Just watch the cravings-related thoughts as though you’d watch them on a television screen. The mindfulness approach suggests that although you might experience these thoughts – your thoughts are ultimately not you.

So don’t beat yourself up if you experience cravings. Just realise that it is just a feeling, a thought. Simply accept these thoughts and be willing to experience them, without having to act them out.

Everybody experiences cravings but only action validates them.

Watch out for stress

The ‘wanting’ part of your brain attributes what scientists call ‘incentive salience’ to things in our environment. Incentive salience is the motivation that you associate with something rewarding. Your ‘why’ for reaching out for something rewarding.

For instance, you might associate cigarettes with relaxation, chocolate with a sugar rush, or alcohol with feelings of euphoria. Incentive salience is when your ‘wanting’ exceeds your ‘liking’ of the reward.

If you’re stressed, your cravings become magnified. The dopamine system in your brain becomes activated and magnifies this incentive salience to cues. That is, you will feel that things are more rewarding than they usually are.

This is because stress accentuates your ‘hot’ system and attenuates your ‘cool’ system.

That means that whenever your stressed, rational thinking is likely to go out the window and you are more likely to indulge in every whim that your emotional self might desire.

Get rid of external cues

According to the Elaboration Intrusion theory, craving will be elicited by external cues (i.e. visual cues like images of sweets or chocolate).

If these cues are vivid and there’s a lot of them in your immediate environment, it will be incredibly difficult for you to resist.

These cues will also lead to elaboration on the intrusive thoughts that these cues provoke.

Don’t elaborate on your intrusive thoughts

It is a common occurrence to experience intrusive thoughts. Images of chocolate pop into your head. You smell cigarette smoke and you instantaneously think about smoking.

By elaborating on these thoughts and thinking about the silkiness of the chocolate, about how sweet and smooth it would taste – you’re not increasing your chances.

These thoughts will cause cravings. They will bias your choices in what to eat. By prioritising these thoughts, they will overload your cognitive capacity to exact some sort of self-control over yourself. 

The more you elaborate on these thoughts, the more you will overload your cognitive capacity (Working Memory). That is, your short-term memory, attention and perceptual processing will be overloaded by this craving.

Scientists show, however, that if you can overload your cognitive capacity with another cognitively competing task – you will be able to reduce your cravings. So how does this work?

Focus on something else – use competing imagery

By using imagery you can indulge in a “preferential allocation of mental resources” which is a scientist’s way of saying ‘just focus on something else’.

Harvey, Kemps, and Tiggemann (2005) conducted an experiment in which they induce food cravings via a visual imagery task (i.e. “imagine you are eating your favourite food).

Then, the participants took part in a imagination task which was either a) visual (e.g. imagine a rainbow), or b) auditory task (e.g. imagine a telephone ringing). It was found that those that imagined visual cues experience a significant reduction in cravings. 

Kemps and Tiggemann (2007) extended the findings of this experiment to olfactory images. The use of olfactory imagery is as successful as visual imagery in reducing cravings. 

Therefore imagining visual and olfactory things whenever you crave could be a good idea. 

This is effective because cravings are visual and olfactory in nature rather than auditory. Instead of elaborating on your cravings, you would be able to distract yourself and reduce your craving simply by imagining different visuals or scents.

This happens because of diverting attention for your Working Memory to process – it is preoccupied with that, leaving less room for other cognitively competing tasks (i.e. imaging about food)

Closing thoughts

It’s easy to fall prey to our cravings.

After all, we as a species evolved to be impulsive in the sense that we want instant gratification. Our predecessors benefited from this attribute as it aided in them in their survival. 

For 99.5% of our evolutionary history, members of the genus Homo lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Because of their nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle, our predecessors ate high calorie and calorically dense foods whenever they got the chance to avoid the unpredictable periods of food shortage.

Strongest cravings were developed for nutrients that were essential but incredibly rare in the environment such as sugar, fat, and salt.

This sort of impulsivity was essential for survival and that’s why our need for instant gratification is deeply etched in our emotional, ‘hot’ brain (i.e. the limbic system).

But nowadays this impulsivity is affecting our long-term goals of future well-being, fitness, weight loss, health – you name it.

If you use these tips, hopefully they will help you better deal with your cravings.

How to Cook Spelt Spaghetti, Vine Tomatoes, and Baked Ricotta

How to Cook Spelt Spaghetti, Vine Tomatoes, and Baked Ricotta

As part of my 2016 New Year’s Resolution, I’ve decided to cook a special meal once a week and share my culinary adventures with you.

This recipe is from “Everyday Super Food” by Jamie Oliver. Cook time is 1 hour and serves 4 portions.

Ingredients:
  • olive oil
  • ½ a bunch of fresh thyme (15g)
  • cloves of garlic
  • ½–1 fresh red chilli
  • lemon
  • 500g ripe mixed-colour cherry tomatoes, on the vine
  • 250g best-quality ricotta cheese
  • 320g dried spelt spaghetti
  • handfuls of rocket
  • optional: balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Pour 3 tablespoons of oil into a small bowl. Run the bunch of thyme under a hot tap for 3 seconds to reawaken it, then shake dry and strip the leaves into the oil.

Here’s a simple video on how to strip the thyme leaves from its sprigs:

Peel the garlic, then finely slice it with the chilli and add to the bowl. Finely grate in the lemon zest, add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper and mix together.

When cooking, you never know if there’s a special technique in the preparation of certain things. In a surprisingly elegant video, here’s how to finely slice a chilli pepper:

And here’s a video about the various ways on how to zest a lemon using different types of tools. Be careful to zest just the most outward layer of the fruit – the white underneath tends to be quite bitter:

Below: the olive oil, finely sliced chilli pepper, (not so) finely sliced garlic, fluffy lemon zest, and thyme leaves all put together with a pinch of salt and seasoned with a bit of black pepper. 

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Lay the cherry tomatoes in a 30cm x 40cm baking tray. Rub the flavoured oil all over the ricotta and place in the centre of the tray, then gently rub the remaining oil over the tomatoes.

Add a splash of water to the tray, place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes, then remove. With 10 minutes to go, cook the spaghetti in a pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions.

That smells absolutely incredible. 

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Lift the ricotta out of the tray, then shake the tomatoes off the vines, discarding the stalks. Add half a mug of pasta water to the tray and gently shake to loosen all the sticky goodness from the base.

I used a fork to separate the tomatoes from the stalks. Also, only at this advanced stage did I realise that I used 275g of tomatoes instead of the 500g that Jamie suggested in his recipe. The shops had closed by then, too. Right.

Drain the spaghetti and toss straight into the tray with a squeeze of lemon juice, season to perfection, then break that beautiful ricotta over the top.

Sprinkle over the rocket, toss together well, then serve. My missus likes this with a little drizzle of balsamic, too.

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  • Calories: 429kcal
  • Fat: 18.9g
  • Saturated Fat: 5.8g
  • Protein: 16.3g
  • Carbs: 61.7g
  • Sugar: 9.2g
  • Fibre: 7g

Closing thoughts about the recipe

When preparing the spelt spaghetti, I made sure to drain it just when it started to absorb water.

It was slightly al dente (i.e. firm when bitten) but when I mixed it up with the rest of the dish the spaghetti absorbed all that goodness and flavour instead. Fantastic.

The ricotta gave the spaghetti a creamy texture and the tomatoes from the vine offered an explosive burst of flavour. It was a pleasure experiencing how two drastically different flavours combined so surprisingly well.

What I could have done differently was put in slightly less chilli pepper (I used 3/4 of a pepper) because the spice served as a bit of a distraction from the central flavours of the dish.

Also, next time I’d be more sparing with the garlic – the cloves I used were unusually big and the taste reflected this to an extent. The right amount of tomatoes would’ve made a big difference, too.

This was a pretty easy meal to cook and not too expensive to make as well. I will definitely give this another go in the future.

In a nutshell:

  • More vine tomatoes
  • Less chilli (I used 3/4 of a pepper)
  • Watch out for the garlic…

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Any ideas on what I could have done better in this recipe? Or any interesting twists to the recipe that you could share?

Let me know in the comments below!

This recipe was from “Everyday Super Food” by Jamie Oliver.

P.S. Thanks for reading! If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more life-optimising stuff.

How to Get Lucky at Life

Life deals you cards. 

The family you are born into. The neighbourhood you are raised in. Even the era you are raised in.

Being born in the 21st century is good luck. Being born into a loving family is good luck. 

But life deals you different types of cards. 

Being hypoglycaemic is bad luck. Being ruled out with a knee injury for 6 months is bad luck.

Some things you just can’t control. No point in getting frustrated about the things you have no influence over. About the things you can’t change.

Be frustrated about the things that are in your control. About the things you can change.

Mike Cernovich says that we have a vast amount of control over our lives and that we can improve our luck by making better choices.

So what can you do to improve your luck at life?

How do you design your lifestyle in a way that can maximise your chances of success?

Here’s Mike:

“If you woke up every morning with 30 minutes to spare rather than hit the snooze button, warmed up your brain, did some cardio, reflected on your day at work, remained mindful at work, avoided negative people, refused to gossip, ate nutritious foods, lifted weights, watched zero television, and set your cell phone down at night to either spend time with your children or focus on your life vision….Might you get lucky?

In a recent blogpost of hisCernovich listed a few things that we can choose to do so that we can improve our luck in life:  

  • Gaining self-knowledge is not luck.
  • Leveraging your gifts is not luck.
  • Meditating is not luck.
    • Eliminating negative people is not luck.
    • Refusing to argue is a choice, not luck.
  • Going to the gym is not luck.
  • How you choose to view your position in life is not luck.

In this article, you will learn the importance of these choices and why making them will ultimately improve your luck.

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Kais Kraiem via Flickr

 Gaining self-knowledge is not luck

Know Thyself

In order to know yourself, you have to put yourself in various situations. Situations you might not necessarily feel comfortable in. Like sky diving.

You will learn more about yourself when you’re diving however-many-thousand feet through the air than you would by chilling in your comfort zone.

Life naturally puts you in new, challenging situations. Through trial and error, through empirical experimentation – you gain self-knowledge.

Along the road to self-discovery, there will be many dead-ends and back alleys you’ll regret you’ve gone down.

But there is always some benefit from ending up in a grotty little backend sh*thole – or at least that is how you should interpret it. Frame it in a way that benefits you most without being delusional about it.

After all – what if it was a gift?

On some level, you most likely have a fair degree of self-knowledge. You might know which foods don’t work in your favour and which optimise your day-to-day.

You might know when you’re in the red zone after a long day’s or week’s work and when to decide to just relax at home and restore.

To gain self-knowledge on a deeper level, you have to reflect upon your life. What you have done so far and what you want to do going forward. 

You have to go through some introspection to connect the dots about your life and yourself.

To tune into your inner voice, to notice the commonalities and recurring themes in your life that are begging for more of your attention. How do you do this? Check this out.

Through self-reflection and introspection,  you are making a constructive attempt to understand your life and yourself.

You will find out and learn about your strengths and weaknesses, learn what is comfortable for you and what isn’t (yet), and so on.

Know thyself.

 Leveraging your gifts is not luck

Through gaining self-knowledge, you realize more about your gifts. What innate talents and traits you have won in the genetic lottery, or as Warren Buffet calls it the ovarian lottery. Paraphrasing Carol Dweck in her bestselling book Mindset:

‘Everybody has their own unique genetic endowment, unique aptitudes and temperaments.

The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development. Potential isn’t a fixed quantity; the limit for potential is unknown.

Whatever cherished qualities you are born with – they can be developed. With training, passion, and effort – you can maximize your potential.’

Learn about these gifts and use them to your advantage. Invest in yourself and build upon them to create something unique to you.

If you put forth the effort to combine your gifts and believe that something good will come from the fruit of your work, then you are maximising your chances for success.

You are choosing to make the most of the cards life has dealt you.

Meditating is not luck

By controlling your thoughts and emotions, you are training your mind to operate in a way that increases your quality of life and benefits it in immeasurable ways.

You are making a conscious choice to operate on a higher level of consciousness, resisting the urge to operate on a debilitating low frequency by falling into negative, self-defeating thought patterns. 

You are choosing to be present in the moment.

Eliminating negative people and refusing to argue is a choice, not luck

How you train your mind to function is vital in itself but who you surround yourself and allow to shape you is important also.

Surround yourself with upbeat and vibrant personalities that you will build a positive ecosystem of emotion together with.

Surround yourself with people that add value to your life and deserve reciprocity with whatever value you can give back.

With people that genuinely have your best interest at heart and want to help you in your unique mission. 

Avoid the social vampires that suck the life out of you.

Low consciousness level people that will only instil doubt in you and stand in your way on your path.

Toxic people that preoccupy themselves with petty dramas and high-octane arguments you would be better off without.

You are choosing who you surround yourself with and who you avoid.

Going to the gym is not luck

You only have one body.

By going to the gym, all other areas of life instantly benefit.

Going to the gym enforces structure into your life and motivates you to nourish your body properly. You feel better because you’re living a healthy lifestyle.

Going to the gym energises you and positively impacts your productivity. This newfound energy then trickles into your work and your social relationships.

Exercise changes your biochemistry. It improves your cognitive function and helps your learning.

It helps improve your posture by building muscles that will support a straight, upright stance.

It helps you unwind and enjoy a healthy catharsis. 

You look better, you feel better, you become better.

By going to the gym, you are choosing to live a healthy life.

 How you choose to view your position in life is not luck

Much of how you view your position in life depends on the mindset you adhere to.

Carol Dweck in her bestselling book Mindset talks about two mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset will believe that their abilities are carved in stone and cannot be exceeded.

A person with a growth-mindset, however, will believe that potential is unlimited and you can always get better with each passing day.

“The hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development.”

-Carol Dweck, Mindset

Personality grows out of the mindset you adhere to. Choose to develop a beneficial mindset to grow a favourable personality.

Choose to view failures as constructive feedback on your performance in any area of life.

Choose to turn setbacks into future successes. Identify your strengths and weakness: build on and leverage your strengths (gifts) and work on your weaknesses. As Dweck put it:

“Be open to accurate estimations of your abilities so you know what to work on.”

Rid yourself of limiting beliefs like “I can’t do this, I can’t do that”, “I’m not this; I’m not that.”

Catch yourself whenever you do self-deprecating mental gymnastics whereby you feel like giving up, you feel unworthy. 

Why?

As Jeff Goins, author of Art of Work, puts it:

“Because you’re capable of more than you realise, and in trying, you learn something new as you push past possibility. As a result, you grow, learning that most skills are not inborn, but learned. Practiced.

At least, they can be, if you’re willing to adopt the growth mindset and dedicate yourself to the practice that follows. Even the most gifted people do not have what it takes to succeed without the right attitude and years of practice.”

Life deals you cards. Make the most with the hand you have. Forever expand your comfort zone to become the best version of yourself.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more life-optimising stuff.

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Thank you to Mike Cernovich for inspiring me to write this post. Importantly, thank you for being among the few people who inspired me to start this blog.