Comfort: The Biggest Killer of Productivity

Rodin's Thinker

Being comfortable is the biggest killer of productivity.

When you have something to prove, or are hungry to better yourself, you work for it. You bust your ass. Once you attain a certain level of success, whether it’s in your job, your housing situation, your car, your weight, fitness level, whatever, it becomes a lot harder to keep your eye on the prize. Your goals change. It’s easier to coast a bit and just do enough to maintain your  comfort level. Maybe you slip (which I’ve done with my fitness and weight in particular), maybe you don’t. But it’s sure as hell a lot harder to remember to work for what you want once you sort of reach your goals.

This applies to my writing, fitness, weight, work, just about everything. I’ve recently had good reason to look at where I’m at and realize that I have been coasting for a long time. I haven’t been writing enough, for one thing. But I’m back in the swing of things now and am making progress on pretty much all fronts.

What about you? Do you need a wake-up call? Get out there and do something to better your life.

P.S. I got off my ass and did 1.5 miles on the treadmill this afternoon. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Seize the Day!

Gianna Posing Outside

Having a kid constantly reminds you that time is slipping away. Nothing stays the same. You don’t, your family doesn’t, your friends don’t, your pets don’t. The world doesn’t.

Seize the moment and enjoy where you’re at, who you’re with.

Right now, Gianna is changing every day. She’s talking quite a bit, and I find myself being a little sad to see it (simultaneously, I’m happy, of course). But it’s easy to get a little melancholy about seeing her lose cute behavior and become more like the rest of us. She just started saying an emphatic, “Uh huh!” instead of just nodding or making this weird, cute little “yes” sound that she’s been making for a long time. It’s imposible to describe adequately, but it’s sort of a nasal click that she vocalizes. I’ve never heard anyone else make a sound like this–it’s just hers.

Or it was.

It’s gone now in favor of regular language.

So seize the day. Enjoy what you have while you have it.

Find Your Passion. Work Hard. Be Relentless.

Gianna in the Bowling Alley

Find something you’re passionate about, work hard, and pursue it relentlessly.

Today, my little sister graduates from nursing school. The wide world sits at her feet, ready to be worked on, fixed up, and helped.

It took her a few years to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, but once she did, she set her mind to it. She’s worked hard,

Me, Ashley and Gianna at the Polson Airport in 2011
Me, Ashley and Gianna at the Polson Airport in 2011

mastering everything necessary to not only learn the basics of nursing, but to excel. She got all As and 4 Bs, and her classmates voted her the “most likely to be a leader.” She’s persistent, fearless, smart, takes charge when necessary, etc. When something needs to get done, she does it. She is young enough that her memory is still excellent, and she seems to remember just about everything she has learned about how the human body works (she’s now my “go-to-guy” when it comes to health issues). She has attracted the attention of her professors and bosses, and has been commended for doing so well.

My hat is off to you, Ashley Barba.

Keep pursuing your passions and you will do well throughout the rest of your life.

And you, readers? The same thing goes for you.  Figure out what you’re passionate about and pursue it. Don’t just sort of half-assed think about it or talk about it. DO IT. Be relentless in pursuit of what you love.

If everyone found their passion and pursued it relentlessly, the world would be a hell of a better place.

So follow my sister’s lead, get out there, and do what you love. Work hard. Don’t take no for an answer.

I’ll Do It . . . Someday.

Justin in Oregon 2003

Boy, have I been lazy this winter.

Really, I’ve been lazy for way longer than that, but at least I kept going to yoga and running off and on for about the last year, which managed to keep off some of my excess fat. But this winter, I stopped working out at all, stopped running, and “took some time off” from yoga.

I don’t like being fat. Nobody does. But I sure do love indulging myself–I’m a glutton.

My Dad and I in Oregon 2004
Here I am with my dad in my fat days. Compare that to the pictures of me in Hawaii. I was fat.

I’ve been drinking pots of coffee with half and half instead of skim milk lattes, which has helped me binge on the stuff, swilling down WAY too much of it. I’ve also been eating far too much unhealthy food (and even when I eat healthy stuff, I’ve been a glutton). I’ve had to switch from wearing medium shirts to large ones, and my 34 inch waist pants don’t really fit very well. I know to many people, probably most, this won’t sound like much. I’m not 250 or 300 pounds and I’m not in serious danger of dropping dead from a heart attack.

But you know what?

In America, we have a seriously skewed idea of what “fat” is. We call it being “big,” or pretend that as we age, it’s normal to get fat and out of shape. I think this is more of a facet of modern American society–we eat high calorie food, drive everywhere, watch tv all the time, etc. I don’t need to go into detail, do I? We all know what’s wrong with the picture of American Health these days.

And sugarcoating it with soft, non-offensive language doesn’t help anything. It only serves to massage weak egos and fool us into pretending that we’re fine. Everything will be fine. Please pass me another cheeseburger or another bowl of ice cream. I’ll walk a little more tomorrow. We wait for “someday.” That mythical “someday.” Someday I’ll start eating right. I’ll exercise. And I’ll like it. Someday. Maybe. meanwhile, we’re getting older, our bodies are breaking down, and we tend to get fatter.

Justin in Oregon 2003
Here I am in Oregon 2003. I was pretty fat then.

I say “we” since it applies to me like crazy. I spent my 20s weighing about 220 pounds. I ate fast food multiple times/day. We used to leave the paint store in the mornings then stop in at Burger King for a Double Whopper with cheese, King-sized fries, and a huge Coke. I used to drink at least a 6 pack of Coke every day (and usually way more than that due to free refills at every damn restaurant). We’d have lunch about 3 hours later at some other awful fast food place (or sit downs. If we could swing the time, we’d drop into a sit down and eat, eat, eat). We ate like kings, so it’s now surprise that I looked like Robert Baratheon.

Then on Easter 2005, after gorging myself on tasty food, I was lying on the couch at my grandma’s house watching Foodtv. I felt

terrible (of course I had eaten WAY too much). We were watching a marathon of this show where they gave these fat people a trainer, a dietitian, and a plan for a few months (they followed them from beginning to end). They whipped these people into shape, even this extremely obnoxious guy who lost 40 pounds in 3 months. Seeing this idiot do it spurred me to decide to get in shape.

At the same time, my wife was training for her first marathon, so she was running all the time, which helped motivate me too (she is very fit). So. I ended up eating right and exercising, and I lost 2 pounds/week. I went from 225 to 172. I wasn’t ripped, but I had

September 2005 at a 5k in Maui
Here I am weighing 172 in Maui 2005 just before running my first 5K race.

abs with no fat on them for pretty much the first time in my life. In fact, I was on the skinny side–I was running too much and not eating enough protein.

Then I started lifting weights and doing yoga and got up to about 190, which I stayed at until about 2 years ago, when I started

going to a trainer with my brother. With him, we managed to condense a week’s

worth of weight lifting into 2 hours/week, but once we got too busy with work and had to stop, I rested on my laurels. I gradually lost my strength and my aerobic conditioning. I still went to yoga until last autumn, which helped keep me up somewhat, even though I had crept up above 200 pounds again. Then, like I already said, my winter of hedonism shoved me up to 221. After one week of eating well and exercising, I’m down to 216 right now (I think I tend to hold on to a few pounds of excess water when I’m being unhealthy).

So what’s my point?

Justin in Portugal
Here I am in Portugal. I was fit then (I knew how to maintain it).

Well, I have a few today, I guess. Get off your ass and do something. Move around. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ll always have time to get healthy later on. You certainly might, but hey, get to it. Don’t do like I have been. Don’t ignore yourself. Look for balance in what

you do, and try to make a positive change. I don’t want to see you drop dead from being unhealthy.

In my case, I think I may have flipped the switch back to “go.” I think. It’s hard to say, but I feel motivated about it right now. I DO NOT want to look and feel like I have been. I don’t want to be an unhealthy example for Gianna. I want to be there for her when I’m old. I want to look good. I want to feel good. I want to be able to run half-marathons again.

I’ve also noticed recently that my once excellent memory is really fading. I have been having a really hard time remembering if I’ve done things I meant to do or not. I think it’s related to my bad diet and lack of exercise (I sure as hell hope it is, anyway). I’m 36-years-old, so I think it’s a bit early to start shutting down.

Coloring Easter Eggs
You can see that I've gotten fat (if you don't see me in real life, that is. If you do, you know I've gotten fat again).

So. make that “someday” today. Get off your ass and go for a walk. Eat less. Eat better. Just do it for yourself. You owe your future self some health.

Caine’s Arcade: A Lesson For Everyone

Caine's Arcade

Yesterday I ran across this touching video, Caine’s Arcade. It’s about a 9-year-old kid in East LA who creates his own game arcade out of cardboard and tries to attract customers.

I love seeing people take the initiative to create things, especially kids, and I’m the first to admit that I’m actually a big baby when it comes to things like this (if you watch the video, you’ll see what I mean).

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I love how much effort Caine puts into something meaningful. Most people don’t do that. He demonstrates a lot of ingenuity and passion in building and maintaining his cardboard arcade. It’s interesting to think about his goals–he just wants customers to play his games and have fun. Of course, like any other creative person, he obviously loves making and maintaining the games, and sitting in his chair waiting for people to show up. He seems to be empowered to just do it whether people come by or not.

I love that!

Writing a book takes the same sort of effort. So does organizing a convention. You put a lot of hard work into any big creation like that in the hopes that other people will enjoy it too. There might be a payoff, but then again, there might not. Maybe nobody will show up or nobody will read it, whatever. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to see the magic in what you do.

Visit Caine’s Arcade on Facebook. He’s inspiring other kids to make things, and people are donating money to him for college.

Be like Caine. Take the initiative to do something creative, don’t be lazy, and follow your passion.

Now I’m off to write.

((Picture and video courtesy of Caine’s Arcade))

Prioritize!

In lieu of telling you all the funny yet disgusting true story I had intended to share, I realized that this morning I need to channel my creative energies into my fiction instead of the blog. Also instead of MisCon stuff. I ‘ve been spending a serious amount of time on MisCon lately, and not enough writing.

Also, screw you, Facebook! Like so many of you out there, I spend too damn much time on Facebook, keeping up with everyone and everything.

Prioritize.

It’s okay to love a lot of things. Sometimes, though, you just need to set aside the fun stuff and get down to business (which in this case is writing fiction).

So goodbye everyone, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow (after having put some new words down on screen).

The End of an Era: Reflecting on Life, Death, and Creating Things

Gianna in her Pants Hat

The only real benefit of losing someone you love (our Minitaure Pinscher Sally just died) is that it forces you to reflect on your own life.

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Sally was the last of our first generation of pets: Dulce the Chihuahua, Sally the Miniature Pinscher, Ivan the super Doberman, King the Akita/German Shepherd, PJ the Poodle, and Monster, Chewie, and Jihad the cats are all dead now. It seems like it’s the end of an era in our lives, I guess, now that they’re all dead and gone.

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I was devastated when Ivan died 4 years ago (read what I had to say back then in my post, My Ivan is Dead and Gone if you really want to see me feeling terrible. I still can’t read it without crying). But after he died, we still had Dulce and Sally and life carried on. Later that year, we picked up that biggest of doofuses, Clyde. Then Dulce and Jihad died and we found Gretel of the Crazy Hair.

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Even though Clyde is already 3 and a half, he’s still an idiot freshman in my mind, and Gretel is like a 6th grader. There isn’t any Sally left to stumble up and snarl them into submission. They’re the old guard now. They’re moving on. They’re not dwelling on the past or old friends. They just are.

Now that Sally, bravest of my beasts, that tiny courageous hero, gobbler of all food, lover of the good life, is dead, I’m moving on too. I have to.

Death is like a slap in the face that reminds you nothing stays the same forever. We’re all getting older all the time, obviously, but it’s easy to lose sight of that on a daily basis and just run on cruise control.

We’re all born, live our lives, then we die. It’s going to end some day, so you damn well better get out there and do meaningful things. Make the world a better place. Create something. Improve other people’s lives.

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I need to get back into the swing of writing my own stuff. I have been spending a huge amount of time on MisCon lately, especially the last few weeks. I’m trying to get George R. R. Martin’s airline tickets lined up, which is proving to be troublesome, and I’m trying to get the schedule out of the way. It’s all a pretty big undertaking, and it takes time.

One of the reasons I spend so damn much time working on MisCon is that it’s a way for me to do something nice for other people. I like helping make the convention as good as it can be, and I enjoy making people happy. It’s also a creative outlet (not that I need any more of those, but still).

All the work I put into MisCon is worth it to me, but I wish I could get down how to have it affect my fiction writing less than it does. I need to get better with my time these days, I guess. Part of my deal is that I’ve been staying home with Gianna this winter, and I’ve been trying to maximize my time with her. It’s sort of tough to figure out how to manage time with a little kid running around.

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Today, in the spirit of this post, Gianna and I played outside for a few minutes in the wintry sunshine. She was very excited to get outside on her own 2 feet, and it worked well until she insisted on  heading into the snow everywhere she could. She can’t make it over much snow, so she kept falling down and getting cold hands.

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So try to remind yourself that life isn’t forever. To make a difference in the world, you need to work at it. So get out there and do something creative, positive, generous, whatever. Make somebody happy.

And give your pets, parents, kids, grandparents a special love for me. We won’t be around forever and you’ll sure as hell wish you had more time. I know I do.

Passion, Enthusiasm, Motivation: Get Your Mojo Back!

Taco the English Bulldog Head Shot

Passion can be elusive.

It comes and it goes. It’s wrapped up in motivation and creation, feeling good about something, enthusiasm, happiness. It often turns into obsession. When we’re in the middle of something and everything is going right, feeding our passions is one of the best things there is.

And when passion leaves us?

The world becomes grey and humdrum, boring. Maybe sad, maybe melancholy. Losing your passion is just about the worst thing around. Life loses meaning and you just want to sit around watching the Price is Right.

In my brother Josh’s case, it was nothing quite so dramatic, but it illustrates my point: this winter, he got back into taking care of his 135 gallon saltwater aquarium. He tends to become obsessed about some new thing every winter while we’re not painting much, whether it’s firearms, Toyota 4Runners, cuckoo clocks, cooking, wood carving, you name it.

When he is passionate about something, Josh does amazing things, as you can see from some of his carvings:

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Saltwater aquariums were his thing for about 3 years–he read everything possible about saltwater chemistry, corals, fish, lighting, you name it. He built his 6-foot-long tank into mostly self-sustaining ecosystem with fancy lights and high-tech gadgets, and plumbed it into his house’s water supply. When we went to Hawaii in 2006, he could name everything he saw. His knowledge was impressive. A few years ago, the tank was overrun by green and red algae, his corals mostly died, and he lost interest in maintaining it.

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The mandarin fish, pictured above, can be a tricky one to keep. You need a healthy tank–this one lived for years before the tank died. It was fun to watch, with its weird red eyes and swirly blue and green pattern. My brother sure spent hours and hours staring at the creatures that lived in his saltwater tanks (for some weird reason, I don’t have any good pictures of the crabs, snails, corals, or most of the other amazing stuff he had). I do have a couple decent shots of his favorite fish, the cowfish (pictured below).

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What’s interesting here isn’t so much that he had a really cool tank filled with amazing corals and hard-to-keep fish. It’s how fast a turn for the worse in something you love can kill your enthusiasm.

So the spring the tank went to hell, he picked up a couple new coral fragments in Spokane, Washington. Well, little did he know, but the frags came with tiny bits of invasive algae that pretty quickly spread all over the tank.

The bubbly purple stuff in the following picture is Cyanobacteria, a tank killer that’s tough to get rid of. The green hairy stuff is undesirable algae.

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He tried everything he could find to kill the stuff, from frequent water changes, changing out his light bulbs, you name it. He fought it for a long time, but green hair algae just crept in and took over. Then one day, his favorite, the cowfish, died. That crushed him–the cowfish used to swim up to the top of the tank and eat right out of his hand, if you can believe that. It was practically like a dog in the way it would cruise by the glass and look at you.

The cowfish’s death, combined with the invasive algae, just sort of killed my brother’s passion for aquariums, and he just let the big tank sit there for 3 years. The corals died and so did  a few other fish, but it kept humming away, a hairy green mess. I wish I could find a picture to show you before and after, but some of my old pictures have been corrupted.

This winter he decided to clean up the tank and get it looking good again. He got back into the swing of things, cooked and scrubbed his rock, cleaned out the tank, replaced the lights, etc. About $1,000 later, he stumbled across a broken o-ring that had caused his protein skimmer (the main cleaning mechanism in saltwater aquariums) to stop cleaning the tank properly. It had all gone to hell because of a $0.20 o-ring!

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Now he has corals again, and a few black and white clownfish (one of them survived the bad years). Coraline algae is starting to build up (this is the good stuff, something you want in your reef tank). His water quality is perfect and the tank is on its way to looking great again.

He is really excited about aquaria now.

So the question is, what does it take to get back into the swing of things? How do you rekindle your passion? Where the hell do motivation/passion/enthusiasm come from?

That’s a great question, isn’t it? I wish I knew, really. I may not know why we feel passionate about something, but I do have a few ideas about how to go about regaining it.

Here’s the process I do:

Step 1: Examine yourself. Why did you lose passion? Did you do something wrong? Was it guilt or laziness? Were you sick? Self indulgent? (I’m listing all my problems here!). Did someone else make you feel bad about yourself? Did you screw up something? Take a good hard look at your feelings and figure out where they came from. Once you do that, you’ll be able to try and cut away the bullshit.

Step 2: Do something! Like my brother, you just need to start with a baby step. You need to force yourself to get off your ass and do something. Get up off the couch, turn off the tv, and do something. It could be anything. Maybe you’re trying to find the motivation to work out (like I am). So force yourself to get back into it. The first step is to do it. Set a realistic goal, and do it. You don’t have to run 10 miles right out of the gate. You just need to walk around the block. Get up and get moving. If you love working on cars, go open the hood. Grab a rag. Clean the air filter. Check the oil. Just get started.

Step 3: Keep doing stuff. That baby step needs to be followed by more baby steps. Those baby steps will turn into speed walking then running. Once you get going, you build momentum. Keep it up. Do it every day, just a little. Do what you can handle.

Step 4: Hope like crazy that your success will get you fired up again. You can’t control your feelings, but you can try to nudge them. Once you get up and running, you will probably feel good about doing something, accomplishing something. This can be the seed that grows into happiness and passion. Once you’re reminded that you’re good at something, it’s a hell of a lot easier to keep going.

Gianna's Tongue
It's not so easy to be enthusiastic like kids are, is it?

Step 5: Be positive/retrain yourself. Once you get on a roll, you MUST remind yourself that you’re on a new path. You’re not going to just sit and watch tv. You’re going to work out first. You’re going to carve something first. You’re going to write that story first. Or even just 100 words. You need to re-train yourself not to be lazy, not to beat yourself up for being a loser. Remind yourself of your victories, all those baby steps you’ve been taking.

Recap: Take a look at yourself. Why did you lose passion/motivation? Did you hit a setback like my brother did? When his tank went to hell and his cowfish died, he was so disappointed that he just lost interest. He tried for months to fix it, but the tank just got worse and he felt like he couldn’t get it. He lost interest.

And what did it take for him to get back into it? Well, he finally decided to try and start it up again, figured out what the problem was (the faulty o-ring), then regained confidence about his ability to keep a touchy reef aquarium. Every day that his tank improves, he becomes more motivated to transform it into something awesome.

This is  a picture Josh took of himself yesterday from inside his aquarium (he has a waterproof case for his camera).

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Now that I’m finally done writing what I meant to be a short little filler post, I am going to take Clyde for a run. I have been indulging my laziness all winter, gaining fat, losing fitness, and drinking far too much coffee with half-and-half and sugar (like a pot a day, at least). I know this run is probably going to really suck, but at the same time, I know I’ll feel better once I get home. Then hopefully I’ll get in some writing.

You Are Not Your Job!

My Dad John Barba Flying his Cessna 150

You are not your job.

I don’t care if you have a crappy job or a great one. You are not your job. You spend a lot of time doing it, and it certainly reflects parts of you, but it isn’t actually you.

We might respect other people for doing what we consider excellent jobs (doctors, lawyers, professors, etc), and that’s fine, but jobs are just jobs. They don’t make you better than other people. They don’t make you worse. We are what we do all the time. The total sum of how we spend our time.

Recognizing this keep me going.

It motivates me to create, to produce things, to be better.

My dad is a great example of someone with a normal job who does extraordinary things. He builds cars, he flies airplanes, he travels all over the world.

My Dad John Barba Flying his Cessna 150
My Dad John Barba Flying his Cessna 150

He can figure out how anything mechanical works. He is a Renaissance man, but how does he spend most of his time? He is the foreman of the paint shop at the University of Montana. Obviously, my brother and I got into house painting because of him. That’s how we make money, so it’s a huge part of how we spend our time. But being a house painter doesn’t define me, just as being a painter doesn’t define my dad. It’s a huge part of him, but it’s not him in total.

So don’t let your job define you either. You’re more than that.

When you’re off work, in your free time, what do you do? Do you create things? Do you actively spend time doing stuff? Do you waste time thinking about your story ideas but not actually writing? Do you plunk your kid down in front of the tv instead of playing a game with him/her?

Do or do not. There is no try!

Give People a Break

Clyde the Great Dane at Elm Park

I don’t usually give people breaks, even if they deserve it.

No, I certainly do not. I tend to judge people very quickly and get caught up in getting things done, accomplishing goals, and making progress to the point that I hold everyone to the standards I set for myself (of course I don’t live up to my lofty standards all the time either, but that’s another topic).

I get fired up about things to the extent that I can be a bastard if I perceive that somebody isn’t holding up their end of the deal–I usually rip them a new one. I have a pretty well-deserved reputation for this, especially when it comes to MisCon (the science fiction convention I help run in Missoula).

When it comes to making the convention happen, I let myself become ruthless. If I think they’re not getting their work done, I might snap at people, hurt their feelings, etc.

I need to take some advice from myself: give people a break sometimes.

You know, sometimes, it’s good to give people a break, however small. You might be helping them out. I resolve to do so today at least once (if given the opportunity).

What about you? Do you give people breaks? Or are you the opposite? Do you let things slide too much?