Category Archives: Self-improvement

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

One part of Lean In that resonated with me, and applies to both men and women is the discussion of imposter syndrome. This is the internal belief that you’re not good enough and that you’re just faking it and at some point you’ll discovered as the imposter you think you are. Success is often dismissed as luck, timing or due to the help of others. We see other people’s success and think we don’t measure up, but the problem with this thought is that we only see their outward success and don’t see their internal struggle and similar feelings of inadequacy. The problem is only made worse by gaining more experience, and rise through the ranks as you surround yourself by more and more qualified people; “do I really fit amongst these smart and skilled people?” you ask yourself.

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Book Review: Lean In

I was sitting in Heathrow Airport, contemplating the 13-14 hour journey ahead of me to Malé in the Maldives, and the likelihood of my tablet’s remaining 60% of battery life making it that distance. In that instance, I did the unthinkable with my new minimalist lifestyle and decided to buy a book in case my use of the Kindle app meant that I could not read. The other advantage to a book over using Kindle was that I could read a book during the 15-20 minutes during take off and landing; with an hour long flight from Colombo to Malé that’s a large proportion not reading.

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Madrid in Review

Good

I’ve improved my Spanish

Before I came to Madrid, I struggled with conversations, because I couldn’t understand people when they talked. I was attempting to translate in my head, and was only about to translate about one word before the other speaker was two sentences further along. Now I can understand a lot more. I don’t understand every word, and I need to concentrate, but I’m getting there. I’m not conversational by any stretch, but my understanding has massively improved.  I put this down to language exchanges, which allowed me to talk to real Spanish speakers and pushed my abilities. This is something I am going to try to continue with in Rio and in South America. I do find that not understanding a single word can prevent me from understanding an entire sentence, so I need to work on my vocabulary a little more too.

Improved my dental health

I never used to floss my teeth. I’d always been told that I should, but it always seemed like a hassle using regular floss. Then I discovered dental floss sticks and it suddenly became much easier. I believe I have successfully integrated then into my nightly routine. It adds a few minutes, but given the smell left on the floss, removing that rotting food and plague is well worth the time for reducing the chances of bad breathe and causing cavities. I’ve also noticed that I no longer have blood in my toothpaste from bleeding gums after I’ve brushed my teeth which shows the health of my gums had markedly improved.

Proved the concept of location independence works

One of the main reasons for moving to Madrid first was to test whether I could be as effective in Madrid as I was in Brighton, while still being close enough to jump on a plane in an emergency. There was a slight delay in getting internet set up, but the VoIP phone system worked and none of my clients were any wiser the fact that I was not in Brighton. My two weeks in the Maldives may put this to the test, but I think it’s sustainable.

Saved money

I was spending £1000 a month on rent and bills in Brighton. My rent in Madrid was closer to £425. I need to spend some time calculating my spending in Madrid, but even with buying numerous plane tickets, I’m in a better financial position than I was. The Maldives will probably be expensive and I know the cost of living in Brazil is surprisingly high, but I hope that this trend will continue. It does show that the United Kingdom, and Brighton in particular, is an expensive place to live.

The bad

Getting out of shape

When I moved to Spain I replaced measuring my weight with measuring my waist, which is a better approach, especially if you are weight lifting. Unfortunately, in the last month I have increased the measurement around my waist, and my clothes are feeling tighter. I’ve only added about an inch, but it’s still disappointing. I put this down to a couple of things. Firstly I have not been exercising. Before I left Brighton I’d started weight lifting, but I have not been able to continue this in Madrid. I will have to make a concerted effort to fix this in Brazil. Fortunately my girlfriend has been going to the gym there, so we will be able to go together.

Secondly I have been socialising. I’ve been spending most weekends with some English friends who are not avoiding carbs, which means that when we go to restaurants or they visit, I fail to eat according to my diet plan. This requires much more will-power and not giving in.

I also think I’ve been failing to stick to one particular plan. I normally aim for a ketogenic diet, but I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body, and attempted to integrate some of his Slow Carb diet into my daily diet. Unfortunately, I think this meant I wasn’t really following either.  I need to pick one and stick to it.

Finally, I think I’ve been drinking far more alcohol than I would in England. Normally I’d order a soda and lime, but I don’t know an equivalent low-sugar drink that is typical in Spain. Going to language exchanges has only increased the number of opportunities to drink.

Procrastination

I possibly procrastinated more in Madrid than I did in Brighton, and this is my current major flaw, which I need to resolve if I want to continue making travelling a viable option. Part of this is down to not sleeping properly, despite attempting to fix this early into my stay here. The main problem here is lack of self-discipline and structure to my day. I think it would be a better idea if I worked on making getting out of bed soon after waking and showering first thing in the morning a habit. I also need to stop having distractions. Imgur and Reddit are a major time sink for me. I should investigate blocking these sites during the day and increasing my usage of tools like Focus@Will to get more things done. Planning my tasks may also help. I’ll be writing some more about these measures in a forthcoming article.

As much as I don’t think it is good to rely on other people to fix my problems, I hope that being around other people working, when I’m in Brazil, will help instil some of these habits in me. It’s harder to waste time looking at cute pictures of cats when the person next to you is writing away.

I didn’t improve my Spanish as much as I’d hoped

I knew that I need to spend more time conversing with native speakers if I wanted to improve my Spanish. Sadly I didn’t do this as much as I should. I spent far too much time talking with English speakers. I had also planned to visit far more language exchange than I did. I suspect that going to one every day the week was unrealistic, but I should have started sooner. Benny Lewis advocates a zero English approach and I failed spectacularly far from this goal. I will have to improve this in Brazil and in any south American countries we end up in. It’s going to be frustrating, but my experience of the improvement language exchanges have made to my Spanish shows that I need to get out of my comfort zone and make the effort and to deal with that frustration if I’m to progress in a decent time frame.

I didn’t explore further afield as I should have

I didn’t really get much change to venture out side of Madrid at all. I had planned to visit Segovia a few weekends ago, as they have a beautiful castle and a Roman viaduct, but a few friends weren’t able to make it, so we postponed our trip until after the new year, but I don’t be here now, so I won’t make that. The only real time I visited any tourist sites was when my friend from England came to visit and we went to see art galleries. I need to make an effort in future to spend more time sightseeing. I am trying to avoid experiencing cities as a tourist and to get a better feel for living in a city, but I shouldn’t avoid things that countries have to offer. The Tapapies festival is the kind of events I should be looking out for more. I think I need to work on working harder, so that I have more free time to experience these events and locations, rather than spending my day procrastinating.

I will be in Brazil during Carnival, so it will be pretty hard to ignore that. I’ve also realised that I need to take more pictures, especially of myself, as I don’t have many of my time in Madrid.

So that’s my review of my two and a half months in the Spanish capital. Some good, some bad, but the bad points are just places I need to look to improve in the future. Do you have any suggestions on how to improve the places I’m lacking? What are your good and bad points of your last few months or for this year? What do you want to improve next year?

Improving your confidence

Someone on a forum asked for advice on how to improve their confidence and to overcome their negative thoughts and opinions of themselves:

I am not a very good looking male and very insecure about what other people think of me. I always have this opinion that no one ever likes me when they meet me for the first time and only after seeing me for couple of times, they get adjusted to my face and start having normal conversations. I routinely say no to people who go out because I am afraid I’ll be left alone. This is also partly due to my high school years where my classmates used to tease me for looking like a old school villain. After this point, I never really got close to anybody. I have friends who I regularly meet but no one who I can share my problems with

I read these anecdotes on reddit where some guy gets enough courage to ask a girl for her phone number and turns out that its not so bad and she agrees. For me that scenario is so outlandish I rule it out as a fantasy. I am constantly striving to not give a fuck but somewhere in the back of my mind the feeling always lingers. I look at people around me and all of them are better looking and I sometimes feel like it is a requirement to exist in this world and achieve success. I frankly don’t know how to overcome this self doubt in me. I imagine I cannot be that unique in this world that somehow this entire universe is conspiring to fuck me over, so this must be something in my head. What should I be doing so I don’t worry about what other people think of me?

I thought that my response would be useful for a wider audience:

When I was a teenager, I used to feel very similar to you at times. I wasn’t popular at school and didn’t get invited out to many things, and never really had a girlfriend and wasn’t very confident.

The first thing to realise is that people’s opinion of you will be hugely affected by your own opinion of yourself. This means that if you see yourself negatively, they will pick up on this and it will cloud their judgement of you. Never ever put yourself down in front of people, or be self-deprecating. You might think that you should avoid being seen as arrogant or narcissistic, but negativity is far worse for you. Arrogance is often mistaken for confidence and that’s what you want to develop. Confidence is just people faking it; they have the same insecurities that you do. It can be draining, but put on a positive public front.

Stop saying no. Seriously, start saying yes more. If you keep saying no, eventually people will just stop asking you and then you can’t say yes or no. Is being left alone in a bar or club really any worse than being left alone sitting at home?
Are you worried about not being interesting? Become more interesting. Start new hobbies. Go out and do things. Join clubs. This will have several advantages:

  • You’ll meet new people
  • You’ll have things to talk about
  • You’ll be active and have less time to have negative thoughts.

You can find free community events on sites like meetup.com. Go along and start talking to people. It’ll be hard at first, but they’ll be welcoming of new members and you won’t be the only new person there, and remember every single person going was new at some point.

If you’re concerned about your appearance, it’s amazing the affect a new haircut can have on your appearance. Find yourself a decent hair salon and get yourself an appointment with a stylist. It’ll be expensive compared to your average haircut, but you only need to go once to get your new style, but it will pay dividends. You may want to spend a little more on future haircuts, but you don’t need to pay much more. For example, I used to pay around £8-9 for a hair cut every six to eight weeks and now pay £13 every month, but the improvement in my appearance is definitely worth it.

The other thing you can do is to improve your fashion. There are a few subreddits here that will teach you how to dress for your body shape and to look more stylish. Basically, if you look like you take care in your appearance, people will respond to you better.

If you’re overweight, make small changes to your diet and go to the gym and start lifting weights. If you’re scrawny, go to the gym and start lifting weights. In fact, just go to the gym and start lifting weights. Can’t afford to go to a gym, buy a set of adjustable dumbbells and start from there.

The universe isn’t conspiring to fuck you over; you are fucking yourself over. Put more effort into your mental well-being and your confidence will improve and everything else will follow.

Fixing bad breath problems.

I’ve never been told that I have bad breath, but I decided I didn’t want to wait until people told me to make sure I don’t have a problem with my breath. The biggest advantage of working to improve the chances of my breath not smelling is the improvement of my dental health, because bad dental health is one of the biggest causes of bad breath. I would avoid using things like breath mints, as they only mask the problem temporarily, and don’t fix the underlying cause, although they can be useful for emergencies. Here’s some of the things I’ve been doing to improve the situation:

Cleaning my teeth twice a day

I’m ashamed to admit that a few years ago I would often only brush my teeth once a day. Generally I’d brush them in the morning and before going out. This was not enough. However, after a breakup about four years ago, one of the things I set out to do was to make brushing my teeth a twice-a-day habit. Previously, in an evening, I would go into the bathroom late at night, and collapse in the bed, and then not want to get back up again, so my dental health suffered from my laziness. Now, I have slowly made it a routine of heading to the bathroom before going to bed, and using the toilet and then cleaning my teeth. By making this into a habit and a routine it has become almost second nature, and my teeth are all the better for it.

However this is not enough.

Flossing

I’d always read that flossing was important, but it had always seemed like an effort, especially with traditional dental floss making it hard to reach the back teeth.  This was until I discovered dental floss picks.

Dental Floss Picks

 

These are very cheap to buy, with 20 costing me €1.50, although they do come in larger quantities available online, which should be cheaper.  By using the dental floss picks to floss between each tooth, you can help remove all the tiny fragments of food that have become stuck there. You might not have realised how much food can remain in your mouth after you’ve finished eating, but all this material is food for the bacteria that makes your mouth smell. In addition, the food particles will rot, causing additional smells and causing gum inflammation. If your gums bleed at all when you brush them, this is the cause.  You should aim to floss daily; I have been doing it in the morning, but I think I will aim to add it to my night time routine to prevent food staying over night. I’ve been shocked at the smell of the picks after I’ve finished, so it must be doing something to help and leads on to my next section:

Mouth wash

Mouth washes can help dislodge food particles and help kill off the bacteria that cause plaque. However, many of the mouthwashes available on the shelves cause more problems than they solve. This is because they contain alcohol or ethanol, to give them a “kick” to the taste, but, while this might kill off some bacteria, it ends up drying out your mouth, creating a better environment for bacteria to grow, and if they contain sugar to make them taste better, they’re just providing extra food for the bacteria.

You should look for a mouth wash that contains chlorhexidine digluconate, like Corsodyl. This is normally used for treating infections in the mouth and isn’t recommended for day to day usage, especially as it can stain your teeth. This might be a good option if you have a serious problem with inflamed and infected gums to get the problem under control, but I wouldn’t recommend you used it long term . However, Corsodyl does produce a lower dose mouthwash called Corsodyl Daily, which doesn’t contain alcohol.

Any staining that does occur can be removed with brushing, and reduced by not eating food with tannins, like tea, coffee or red wine for at least an hour after using the mouth wash. The other thing to know is that most toothpastes use an ingredient called Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, which stops chlorhexidine digluconate from working correctly, so wait at least 5 minutes after brushing your teeth and rinse thoroughly with water before you use the mouthwash.

Tongue cleaners

The surface of your tongue is a perfect location for bacteria to breed, with many pockets for them to be trapped in. Your tongue can be one of the biggest sources of bad smells in your mouth. The front of your tongue tends to be cleaner from the contact with your teeth, but the back is harder to keep clean. This is where tongue cleaners or scrapers can help. They allow you to brush and scrap all the dead cells, food particles and bacteria that’s become trapped in the surface, which will be causing the smell.  One problem you will encounter when using a tongue cleaner is invoking your gag reflex. The best solution to this is finding a cleaner with the lowest profile you can find, and relaxing your tongue. You should also find that you become more used to the sensation after a few weeks of use. You should also attempt to avoid touching the roof of your mouth, which will trigger your gag reflex more. Your gag reflex is one of the reasons why using a tooth brush is not very effective, as they are generally far too tall to reach very far back into your mouth.

Additionally, reducing the number of bacteria on your tongue will help prevent them spreading to your teeth and gums where they can cause inflammation.

Drink Water

Being hydrated makes it easier for the body to produce saliva, which has an antimicrobial function, which helps cut down on the number of bacteria in your mouth. This is one of the reasons you get “morning breath” as you don’t produce very much saliva while you’re asleep and bacteria can flourish.

You can also use water to rinse your mouth out after eating and drinking, to help you dislodge any food particles that may have become trapped in your gums or between your teeth, before they become a bigger problem.

I’ve been trying to increase my water intake for other reasons, but this is just another reason to keep trying. I may start making sure I have a glass of water with me when I go to bed too.

Visiting my dentist

You should visit your dentist regularly. I’d visit mine twice a year if I could, but my dentist told me every nine months. They will be able to spot any dental health problems that could be causing your bad breath problems. Any cavities could fill with food, which will become trapped and rot away. They can also point out any areas you need to pay special attention to with brushing and flossing. They can also help remove any plaque or tartar, which has built up on your teeth, and give your teeth a polish. Just generally having good dental health will help improve the situation, as well as giving you a smile you can be proud of, which will help your confidence.

Other causes of bad breath

There are some causes of bad breath, which are not related to your mouth. These can include your diet and medical conditions. Some diets, like very low carb intakes, are known to cause bad breath. This is because when you eat under 20-100g of carbohydrates a day, your body enters a state known as ketosis, where it uses ketones from fat as fuel, and a by-product of this is acetone, which is expelled through the breath. In some cases, the smell is a result of a problem in the lungs or gastrointestinal tract, or to a systemic infection. If you still have problems after you’ve used these methods, you should talk to your doctor to rule out other health problems.

Hopefully, with these steps, your breath will be one less thing to worry about, and boost your confidence in social situations.

Improving sleep patterns

I’ve noticed recently that my sleep pattern has drifted away from what I’d like, with me falling asleep at 5am and waking up after 10:30 some mornings over the last week. I can attribute some of this to being ill over the weekend, which kept me awake late into the night, but it doesn’t excuse all of my late nights. I can’t blame the infamously late Spanish lifestyle as not even the Spanish are up until 5am during the week. No, this is my fault and I want to fix it. Fortunately, this site is partly about self improvement, so here is what I plan to do about it:

No laptop in the bedroom

To make matters worse is that I have been failing to get out of bed until several hours after waking. It’s been far too easy to wake up, open the laptop, fire up reddit and then never move from my bed until gone midday. Even when I do start working from my bed, it’s never the best work environment.

It’s a double edged sword; having the laptop in bed makes it too easy to be distracted by the internet before I go to sleep. I’ll just read this page I say to myself or I’ll look at Imgur quickly and then 2 hours later I’m still awake.

The other problem with this is that the light from the laptop screen provides an unnatural light source that confuses our brains.

Rule 1: No laptop in the bedroom. No Exceptions.

Alarm to wake up

"Sleeping Sheep" challenge
“Sleeping Sheep” challenge

I haven’t been using an alarm while I’ve been in Madrid and this is clearly the simplest and most obvious trick to waking up at a reasonable time. As I’m travelling light I don’t have the space to carry a dedicated alarm clock, so I’m using my mobile phone to wake me up. The application I’m using is called Sleep As Android, which I’ll discuss properly further down, but one of the features it has beyond basic alarms is the ability to have a challenge for you before it turns off the alarm. You have a choice of solving a maths question, either as a multiple choice or a written answer, a rather adorable “hit the awake sheep” puzzle or scanning a QR or NFC tag or by shaking the phone.  Of the choices, the QR or NFC tag option would probably do the best to make sure you’re awake if you place the code to scan far enough away from your bed. I fear the maths and sheep would be too easy to go back to sleep after.

An alarm to go to sleep

One of the biggest problems is staying awake long after I should have gone to sleep. I’ve configured Sleep As Android to give an alarm when I should be going to bed. The time is based on the time you want to wake up and how much sleep you want, plus a little time to get ready for bed. I’ve set the alarm to go off between 8:00 and 8:30 with seven hours of sleep (I generally require less sleep than the average) so I should get alerted to go to sleep around 12:45. In previous experiments with the software, it’s been fairly easy to just ignore it, so this part will require some dedication to be useful.

Sleep tracking software

I’m a geek, and love to measure things. As I’ve mentioned, I’m using the Sleep As Android app, but there’s also SleepBot for Android and SleepCycle for iOS which do similar things. Basically, they track the vibrations that your movement makes while you sleep. The theory is that your body goes through several sleep cycles throughout the night from light sleeping to deep sleep (and from there into REM sleep, where you do most of your dreaming). Using the vibrations, through your mattress, the app can detect whether you are asleep and which stage of the sleep cycle you are in. The app website has a very through page on the topic if you’d like to read more.  One downside to this method is that if can be heavily confused if you share a bed. If this affects you, and you can afford it, the excellent FitBit One has a wristband you can use while you are asleep, which should reduce the effect of more than one person in the bed.

Armed with the the knowledge of where you are in your sleep cycle, the app can wake you at the best time so that you aren’t overly tired when you wake up. The observant amongst you might have noticed earlier that I said I’d set my alarm for between 8:00 and 8:30 and this is why. Sleep As Android will set off the alarm at some point during that half hour period where I’m not in a deep sleep, allowing me to wake up feeling more refreshed.

device-2012-08-14-154314

One more feature that could come in handy is the ability to record noises during the night, so I should be able to discover how much I snore and if I talk in my sleep.

Other options

I’m making sure that my room is a suitably cool temperature, with no external light if possible (thanks to the amazing external blinds most modern Spanish houses appear to have), have drunk plenty of fluids during the day and emptying my bladder before I go to sleep.  This was one of the useful side effects of my drive to make cleaning my teeth twice a day a habit a few years ago.

People often discuss sun lamps when talking about improving your sleep. Unfortunately, these are usually very bulky, like the Philips HF3485 Wake-Up Light. There are more compact options available, which I might investigate. In the mean time, Sleep As Android appears to have the ability to use the flashlight on the phone to increase the light, but I fear it will not be completely suitable as the light, while very bright, doesn’t increase ambient light as much as dedicated lights.

In Tim Ferriss’s book, The Four Hour Body, he discusses several options, including using supplements to increase the amount of deep sleep you get, so this might be something to investigate in the future, depending on availability outside the US.

Further reading