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Sleep Your Way to Better Fitness

Sleep Your Way to Better Fitness
Sleeping Tiger

Ancient Zen masters said “When hungry eat, when tired sleep.” Modern societies have the first part down pat since the majority of people in western countries are overweight. These busy people seem to have missed something in the translation of the sleep part. This carries over to fitness where many are too tired or say that they don’t have enough time to maintain a regular fitness program.

One of the biggest motivators to getting exercise is simply to be rested, healthy and energetic – impossible without enough sleep. This is simple and basic, like most of what the Zen masters taught. Science teaches that it takes a certain amount and quality of sleep to:

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  • Metabolize carbohydrates properly,
  • Maintain leptin, growth hormones, proper blood pressure and insulin resistance,
  • Keep a positive attitude through decreased anxiety and perceived stress.

Most people fall off the exercise wagon after about three weeks. Their motivation for it crashes when they do not maintain or change to healthy sleeping habits. Without enough sleep, it becomes difficult to get motivated to go out and get proper exercise. In fact, the main excuse for not getting enough exercise is either being “too tired” or having “no time.” Often, it is the combination of both, making it extremely difficult to maintain a balanced approach as taught by these Zen masters.

The “no time” bit is basically a priority issue. If someone feels tired and beat up the day after a workout, there is a tendency to have the “no time” issue become an impediment to fitness. This is because they can feel less productive, more lethargic and so on while being stiff and sore. The tendency is to feel the need to work longer to make up the time spent for the exercise. If someone goes into the exercise well rested, that day and the next day goes by better with the benefits of the natural “endorphin high” and a generally positive sense of health and well being, the “no time” issue vanishes.

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It generally takes about 7 hours of quality sleep for most people. Too few achieve that with today’s harried lifestyles. People often get the sequence backwards, working on sleep after getting going on a new exercise routine. Or worse, getting no sleep or less sleep than before. This is often because the exercise is simply added to the existing busy schedule.

Making an exercise program stick is a problem for many people. One way to do it is to combine the tracking of both sleep and exercise as part of the fitness program. For example, block out 8 hours of the 24 hour day for “fitness” and mark down the actual sleep time and the time in the gym or while out jogging, hiking or playing tennis. Measure the sleep hours and quality as carefully as tracking the weights used or mileage covered. Make this part of your reporting requirement if you have a personal trainer involved in the process.

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Here are ten ways to ensure fitness success. A large part of the process is to ensure the program will stick.

  1. Get plenty of sleep – track your sleep.
  2. Set realistic goals and timelines for your fitness program.
  3. Join a clinic or group to surround yourself with motivated people.
  4. Track you progress.
  5. Tell everyone about your goals.
  6. Make it fun – mp3 player – music or business audio books – fun sports…
  7. Do not over train.
  8. Reward yourself – but not with a lot of food.
  9. Book it in hard – be consistent (5 times a week, not 3).
  10. Get professional help – personal trainer.

The point about 5 times per week rather than the 3 times often prescribed is important. It is really hard to form a habit at 3 times because there is often a conflict knocking out one of the days, reducing it to two which is useless. To build it into a habit, 5 times will work because even with 1 or 2 getting rescheduled or knocked out, there is enough there to make it work. Sometimes all 5 will work out which is fine.

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The upside of this is that there is less need to worry about the dietary aspects when the sleep and exercise parts are handled well. Nike training program running coach Roy Benson often said “if the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn in it.” This probably shouldn’t be taken too far but the point is that the dietary aspects are more easily managed once the proper fitness routine has been in operation over a considerable period of time. This is much more easily enabled when the sleep part is properly managed – right from the beginning.

By building proper sleep into the fitness routine up front, more time is created overall. As the process becomes more streamlined, productivity goes up. Often, there is also less wasted downtime during the day. Someone who is rested and fit doesn’t need to head off to quiet corners or feel the need to head to a fast food joint for a break as often as others. Someone who isn’t as tired likely won’t be as hungry either. To avoid getting hit on the head with a stick by your Zen master, place sufficient sleep at the same level as enough food.

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group, a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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