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January 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

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The Best Alarm Clocks

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

 

If you are ready to implement the ideas proposed in this morning’s post, you might want to upgrade your alarm system–the one that gets you out of bed, that is.  Women’s Health has a few suggestions.

How to become an Early Riser a la Steve Pavlina

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Beth Connolly

Several years ago I read an blog post written by personal development frontiersman Steve Pavlina. Apparently it has proved to be one of his most popular posts. Its subject? Simple: How to get out of bed when your alarm goes off.

As we’ve mentioned several times in previous posts, if you are a Spartan, you control your habits, not the other way around. (How to know if your habits are controlling you? Ask yourself the question: Would I choose x? For example, Would I choose to press snooze every morning and sleep 45 minutes later than I want to, so that my morning routine is rushed?  Would I choose to work out only twice a week?  Would I choose to hunt around my kitchen for sweets every night after dinner?)  If you ask yourself these questions and the answer is No to one or more, congratulate yourself.  You have identified the habits that you want to change.

If you are a Spartan, physical exercise is critical to your daily routine.  Maintaining your form and physical strength are not optional.  One of the most important steps on the journey to becoming a Spartan is for you to decide how much exercise you need, what form you want it to take, and to set aside a certain time every day to do it.  It could be ten minutes a day, if that’s all you have time for.  That’s better than nothing.  Or thirty minutes, 5 days a week.  Maybe you need an hour every day.  The number is different for everyone.

Getting up early is a way to insure that you get this exercise into your day. Whether or not you do the exercise as soon as you get up, you will add invaluable extra time into your schedule.  Below are a few highlights from the three posts that Pavlina has published on the subject.

1. How to get up right away when your alarm goes off: Practice it!

Go to your bedroom, and set the room conditions to match your desired wake-up time as best you can.  Darken the room, or practice in the evening just after sunset so it’s already dark.  If you sleep in pajamas, put on your pajamas.  If you brush your teeth before bed, then brush your teeth.  If you take off your glasses or contacts when you sleep, then take those off too.

Set your alarm for a few minutes ahead.  Lie down in bed just like you would if you were sleeping, and close your eyes.  Get into your favorite sleep position.  Imagine it’s early in the morning… a few minutes before your desired wake-up time.  Pretend you’re actually asleep.  Visualize a dream location, or just zone out as best you can.

Now when your alarm goes off, turn it off as fast as you can.  Then take a deep breath to fully inflate your lungs, and stretch your limbs out in all directions for a couple seconds… like you’re stretching during a yawn.  Then sit up, plant your feet on the floor, and stand up.  Smile a big smile.  Then proceed to do the very next action you’d like to do upon waking.  For me it’s getting dressed.

Now shake yourself off, restore the pre-waking conditions, return to bed, reset your alarm, and repeat.  Do this over and over and over until it becomes so automatic that you run through the whole ritual without thinking about it.  If you have to subvocalize any of the steps (i.e. if you hear a mental voice coaching you on what to do), you’re not there yet.

2. How to become an early riser, Part I:

I read that most insomniacs are people who go to bed when they aren’t sleepy. If you aren’t sleepy and find yourself unable to fall asleep quickly, get up and stay awake for a while. Resist sleep until your body begins to release the hormones that rob you of consciousness. If you simply go to bed when you’re sleepy and then get up at a fixed time, you’ll cure your insomnia. The first night you’ll stay up late, but you’ll fall asleep right away. You may be tired that first day from getting up too early and getting only a few hours of sleep the whole night, but you’ll slog through the day and will want to go to bed earlier that second night. After a few days, you’ll settle into a pattern of going to bed at roughly the same time and falling asleep right away.

3.  How to become an early riser, Part II

Why get up early?

I’d say the main reason is that you’ll have a lot more time to do things that are more interesting than sleeping.

Again, I’ve gained about 10-15 hours per week doing this. That extra time is very noticeable. By 6:30am, I’ve already exercised, showered, had breakfast, and I’m at my desk ready to go to work. I can put in a lot of hours each day of productive work, and I’m usually done with work by 5:00 pm (and that includes personal “work” like email, paying bills, picking up my daughter from preschool, etc). This gives me 5-6 hours of discretionary time every evening for family, leisure activities, Toastmasters, reading, journaling, etc. And best of all, I still have energy during this time. Having time for everything that’s important to me makes me feel very balanced, relaxed, and optimistic.

Think about what you could do with that extra time. Even an extra 30 minutes per day is enough to exercise daily, read a book or two each month, maintain a blog, meditate daily, cook healthy food, learn a musical instrument, etc. A small amount of extra time each day adds up to significant amounts over the course of a year. 30 minutes a day is 182.5 hours in a year. That’s more than a month of working full-time (40 hours per week). Double it if you save 60 minutes a day, and triple it if you save 90 minutes a day. For me the savings was about 90 minutes/day. That’s like getting a free bonus year every decade. I’m using this time to do things that I previously didn’t have the time and energy to do. It’s wonderful. :)

If you are reading this right after it was published, looks like you are already there!  You are using your Saturday mornings to make yourself a better Spartan, not to luxuriate in unnecessary extra sleep.

Aimee Mullins: A Spartan at Heart

January 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Anthony Adragna

Being dealt physical or mental challenges does not mean we should give up on our dreams. Sometimes it is the fight to overcome those barriers to success that can open new doors to us. Take the inspirational case of Aimee Mullins.

Aimee is a successful actress, model, former intelligence analyst for the government and a champion athlete. She ran the 100-meter dash in 17.01 seconds and jumped 3.14 meters in the long jump.  And she had both of her legs amputated at the age of one.

Born with fibular hemimelia, a rare condition in which the legs develop without fibulas, Aimee endured years of teasing at the hands of other children. Rather than feel sorry for herself, Mullins took her physical handicap and turned it into an asset. In recent years, she has transformed the ideal of beauty in a model, become a competitive athlete, starred in five movies and, just for kicks, graduated from Georgetown University.

Mullins told the Huffington Post that everyone has some sort of handicap and most are not physical. “I think that everyone has something about themselves that they feel is their weakness… their ‘disability.’ And I’m certain we all have one, because I think of a disability as being anything which undermines our belief and confidence in our own abilities. People presume my disability has to do with being an amputee, but that’s not the case; our insecurities are our disabilities, and I struggle with those as does everyone. The good news is that as we grow and change, so do our disabilities, and the thing that once seemed to be our weakness can actually be where we find huge strength and opportunity. I have found great power in taking my ‘difference’ out for a spin in a very public way.”

Rather than despair at the bad luck she was dealt, Mullins opted to turn her disability into an asset. Through hard work, determination and stubbornness she was able to achieve her goals. First, she competed in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, Georgia, where she participated in two events. Then, in 1999, she participated in a series of fashion events for renowned designer Alexander McQueen.

Many of us will not have to face the unique challenges that Mullins has. She teaches us that often our greatest challenges come from within and go beyond our physical limitations. When we are mentally strong and refuse to say “I can’t” then we can accomplish great things.

So take Mullins’ message to heart. Everyone has some form of disability within, as she says.  And we all know what our insecurities are—those areas that we don’t believe that we can ever excel in.  Only when we confront our disabilities head-on, whether they be physical or mental, do we discover our true capacity. You might think that a Spartan Race is a laughable goal.  But if you laugh it off, you’ll never know whether you truly have the Spartan Spirit within you.  And here’s a hint: most people who look hard enough for it will find it inside, along with a bunch of other positive qualities like self-confidence, and determination, that they didn’t even know they had.

Coming Through With Baby On Board

January 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Beth Connolly

[Editor’s note: This story is the first part of a recurring feature you’ll find on the blog.  We’ll be profiling those modern-day Spartan Warriors who best personify the Spartan Spirit of courage, resilience, physical and mental toughness, and self-reliance.  Do you think you would qualify?  Contact us and tell us why we should feature you!]

FEATURED SPARTAN: BRANDI DION

“People don’t like being beat by a pregnant woman,” says Brandi Dion, fitness enthusiast, mother of two, and owner of a Boston-area fitness training business, B&S Fitness and B&S Sport Science.  Wearing shirts that warned “Caution: Seven Months Pregnant” and “Baby on Board,” Dion sprinted past racers walking up steep hills in the August 2010 Spartan Race Boston.
“I just thought to myself, ‘Get out of my way, why are you walking?  Even though I’m pregnant, I’m still competing with myself.  I knew I didn’t have to walk so I didn’t want to walk. I got so fed up that I would be yelling, ‘Coming through!  Coming through!’  When they saw the sign on my shirt, they just couldn’t believe it.”

Dion raced alongside her husband and business partner, Steve Dion, in the August 2010 Spartan Race, despite being seven months pregnant with her second child.  Most women would never consider competing while pregnant, but Dion is a seasoned athlete who couldn’t bear the thought of easing her workouts during a pregnancy unless she had to.

A graduate of Salem State University with a degree in exercise, Dion is also a NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) Certified Personal Trainer and USA certified Triathlon Coach.  Her business, B&S Fitness & Sport Science, provides boot camp training classes, triathlon training, and more.  When she found out that she was pregnant with her first child, she simply couldn’t conceive of dropping off her workout routine but had mentally prepared to do so.  “I was afraid I’d have to start doing yoga or something more relaxing,” Dion says.  “For me, keeping my heart rate under 140 or 150 during a workout seemed impossible.”

Fortunately, her doctor informed her that keeping your heart rate down during pregnancy was not a huge concern given her background.  He encouraged her to continue her regular training schedule without changing anything drastically.  With her fitness background, Dion says, she knows how to listen to her body and work out safely, and she only modified her routine when “absolutely necessary.”

Even though she may not have been performing at the same level she did when she wasn’t pregnant, Dion says, she kept the intensity of her workouts at the same level they were pre-pregnancy but “everything was just harder!”  There’s nothing like sharing your cardiovascular system with a fetus to get the heart rate up and make the intensity level seem higher than it actually is.

Dion says she didn’t have any trouble with the obstacles in the Spartan Boston.  Relying on her upper body strength to compensate for her pregnant belly, she managed to scale the walls and crawl under the barbed wire just fine, thank you. Always cautious of the safety of her baby, of course.

When she finished the race, Dion says, “I felt great.  My endorphins took over.  I wasn’t sore,  I wasn’t fatigued.   It was just like ‘Whoa, that was awesome.  I challenged myself without worrying about the others around me.” Her strategy to stay focused during the race was to “keep developing little personal goals to motivate me, like overtaking a racer in front of me. The overall goal being to do it and to finish the races and do the best I can as a pregnant woman.” 

Through her fitness classes, Dion has helped other pregnant women maintain their fitness routines during pregnancy, and she’s working on a book of guidance for pregnant female competitive racers.

In early December, Dion gave birth to a very healthy baby boy, Maddox, who weighed 8.2 pounds.  Her labor, which lasted only two hours, was an experience to which Dion applied her typical race mentality of “…dealing with the pain, working through it, and trying to push the baby out as fast as I possibly could.”

Afterwards, her doctor told her, “If all my patients were like you, my job would be easy.”

Famous Foodie Gets Fit Without Renouncing Food

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Anthony Adragna

Just because you’re stuck in an unhealthy or harmful behavioral pattern right now does not mean you cannot liberate yourself.  Countless others have, including a number of celebrities.  Oftentimes, a medical diagnosis serves as a harsh wake-up call for those who have long indulged in unhealthy habits.

Consider the case of restaurateur Joe Bastianich. As the son of prominent TV personality Lidia Bastianich and the business partner of famed chef Mario Batali, Joe was obsessed with food.  At the age of 40, though, a diagnosis of sleep apnea forced him to reconsider his lifestyle and step outside his comfort zone into the running world.

Before the diagnosis, Bastianich lived the stereotypical Italian-American life. He told the New York Times in 2008 of late-night eating marathons in which he and Batali would gorge themselves into the early morning.  Shortly before his 40th birthday, Bastianich was told that he would need to wear a breathing mask nightly. He decided to make a change.

“Before, food and wine were the dominating things in my life,” he said. “You do all that, and you never worried about the effects because the effects are inherent to the job. When the job becomes secondary, and the effects of your body become primary, that starts taking a second seat to how you respond to what you put in your body and you treat it. It’s kind of a flip-flop.”

He added running to his life and completed the 2008 New York City Marathon. Soon after, his enthusiasm spread to members of his staff at several restaurants across New York City. Now, chefs, bartenders and other members of the staff run together in Central Park and six of them ran in the 2010 New York City Marathon.

Bastianich learned to implement small, manageable changes in order to achieve success Rather than compromise what he eats, or eliminate favorite foods like pasta, Bastianich has replaced his unhealthy habits with healthy ones like eating breakfast and smaller portions.

By remodeling his own life, Bastianich not only revitalized himself, but he also inspired change in others.  His staff has found strength in numbers when training and running. As a group, they have pushed themselves to reach new goals, much like the Spartan Army.  Take advantage of your own social network, whether it be professional or social, to rev up your training.

Spartan Brain Chemistry 101

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Jason Jaksetic

Dopamine:  Brain juice that produces motivation and a feeling of reward.

Serotonin:   Nectar of well-being and happiness.

Endorphins:  Brain fuel that triggers positive feelings in the body similar in character to those triggered by morphine.

It is a scientific fact that increased levels of the three things listed above result in feeling good.  Putting it simply, these three are the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll of the brain.

You most likely aren’t conscious of it, but when you strive for that “awesome feeling” you ask your brain to pump out more of these happy juices.  Certain activities result in higher doses of these chemicals and so we are predisposed to want to perform these activities.  Kind of makes sense if you think about it.

For example, sex produces plenty of this stuff of happy thoughts.  Most people find sex a fun thing to do from time to time.

Unfortunately, there are unwise means of harnessing higher levels of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.

Like drugs and alcohol.  Drugs and alcohol, while producing an initial high, subsequently cause a severe low.  That’s how a cycle of addiction often begins.  This is not a sustainable, healthy, safe, or morally principled way of keeping the happy juices flowing.

However, exercise is a sustainable, healthy, safe, and morally principled way of pumping your brain full of happy sauce.

Ever hear of a runner’s high?

With this information in mind, how could you not embrace a healthy lifestyle?  You will improve both your physical and mental health when you introduce aerobic and anaerobic activities into your daily routine.

Sitting on the couch and eating potato chips has not been scientifically proven to make you a happier person.  Actually, according to several studies, it may even lead to a higher risk of depression.

But there is no doubt that getting your ass in gear and increasing your fitness level will improve your sense of well-being.

So what are you waiting for?

 

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