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I’ve reached that weird stage in my life where I want the people around me to be happy and feel good about themselves. I’ve spent the majority of my life wanting people to think that I’m special. Flipping the script, and doing what I can to make other people feel special has taken some getting used to.

Perhaps the most effective exercise I’ve developed during this time is paying attention to the little words and phrases I’ve either heard or said that light people up. Then taking it one step further by incorporating them into my daily conversations.

The phrases below aren’t designed to help you get laid or to get you on the radar of someone you are sexually attracted to. They are simply a collection of phrases that people love to hear. They make people smile. They make me smile.

1. “I was thinking about you.”

A little less than a year ago, I told Tom Kuegler (someone who I had spoken with only a handful of times prior) that I was having trouble keeping my anxiety under wraps. A few days after our conversation I received a message: “I’ve been thinking about you and I hope you are doing better.” I liked Tom prior to receiving this message, but after he sent it I loved him — and so did my wife. In one sentence I knew that he and I would be friends for a long time.

This is a bit of an extreme example, but if you are thinking about someone — let them know. The best part about this phrase is that it’s true. Every day we think about other people and telling them when we are can only strengthen a relationship. “I was thinking about you and it dawned on me that we haven’t spoken in a while.” “I’m so glad you called. I’ve been thinking of you.”

2. “You look good.”

Before you attack me for saying this was for picking up friends not partners just hear me out. What I mean by “You look good” in this instance is happy, fit, relaxed.

“It’s been a while. You look good.” You can even pair it with the one above — “I’ve been thinking about you. You look good.” Women give each other compliments all the time. It’s OK for guys to do the same. As my friend Brian Pennie said, “Being told that I look good makes me feel gorgeous.”

3. “What do you think?”

“I’m curious about your experience with W.” “Can you tell me more about Z?” “I’d love to get your opinion on Y.” “Can I get your advice on Z?”

Most people love to share their experiences. They love to talk about their lessons learned. They love to know that their voice is respected and people appreciate their perspective. So when speaking to someone about a topic that is clearly important to them, ask them to share their thoughts. It’s a guaranteed way of making people think highly of you. Plus, friendships rarely fizzle out if you are making an effort to learn about the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

4. “I love the way you see the world.”

I don’t know about you, but I love to be told that I’m interesting. “Every time I’m with you I learn something new.” “That’s interesting. I never thought of it like that before.” These phrases send me flying.

Give them a shot for yourself. The next time someone tells you something interesting fire back by telling them how interesting they are. Few phrases make people feel more special than the words “I love the way you think.”

5. “The last time we spoke you told me X.”

Yesterday I spoke with my friend Nick Wignall for the first time in over a month. I counted three times that he led off a new conversation with the words “The last time we spoke you told me about X. How’s it going?” It made me feel like he really cared about me. Granted he’s a trained psychologist and his job demands being a good listener. But you don’t need to go to school for a decade to incorporate this phrase into your daily conversations.

“The last time we spoke you told me about your new project. How’s it going?” “The last time we spoke you told me your mother wasn’t doing well. I hope she’s feeling better.” No detail is too small for this one. In fact, the smaller the detail the better. Following-up about their mother is silver. Asking about her by name is gold. The greatest compliment you can give to someone is to show them that you are listening to them.

6. “I followed your advice.”

Three weeks ago Niklas Göke and I were walking down the mean streets of Barcelona talking about life and writing. I said something in passing and a few days ago he sent me a message that he followed my advice and it had made a big difference in his work. I was beaming. Nik has helped me a lot. Knowing that I had steered him in the right direction on something made me feel good about myself.

“I followed your advice and each night I lock my computer up in the trunk of my car to better disconnect from work. It’s been a godsend. Thank you.” As I said, people love it when people listen to them. But they really love it when they are told that they have been helpful and their words have made a positive effect on someone else’s life.

7. “I miss you.”

I live in a small town in Catalunya, 6,000 miles away from many of my closest friends. Over the years the communication has become less and less. But once a month or so I open up my email or my phone and waiting for me is a message from a friend saying they miss me. I love it.

Reach out to an old friend today and ask them how they are and say that you miss them. Tell them that you’ve been thinking about them and bring up an occasion that will make them smile. It takes a second, but it can help to make a friendship last a lifetime.

8. “I really admire X about you.”

Every single person in the world has admirable qualities. Being on the lookout for them and letting them know how much you respect them has never damaged a relationship.

“I really admire how great you are with people. People really respond well to you.” “I really admire how strong you are. If that had happened to me I’m not sure I would have been able to handle it.” Again, this is a good place to get specific and spot small details or notice how they have improved in an area that you know is important to them: “Wow. Your Spanish has really gotten better. I really admire how hard you’ve been working.”

9. “I love your energy.”

I don’t have the data on this but I would be willing to bet that not one person on the planet has walked away with a sour look on their face after hearing the words — “You have the best energy. I always feel better after spending time with you.”

“I love your vibe.” “I really admire how positive you always are.” “I always have fun when I’m with you.” Sure, these may sound a bit cheesy. But if I’ve learned anything in my 41-years it’s that allowing yourself to be cheesy from time to time is one of the best things you can do for your relationships.

10. “I saw this and it reminded me of you.”

This past Sunday my phone made a beep and I noticed a new message from my friend John Gorman: “I loved this article and I thought it was also in your wheelhouse.” John may be known for making women feel special, but I gotta tell you after reading his thoughtful message I caught my cheeks getting a bit warm. A message that may have taken him all of 10 seconds to write gave me an extra pep in my step.

If you heard a song that reminds you of summer 09’ — send it to the friend you used to listen to it with. If you watched a movie and it reminded you of someone — let them know. If you see a funny pair of $5 socks that you know a friend will love — buy them. When I was a teenager my mom told me that women love unexpected gifts at unexpected times. It turns out that middle-aged males do also.

11. “Thank you for being a good person.”

One of my goals for this post was to use only examples of men saying nice things to other men. God knows that men need to say more nice things to women. But I’d also love to see them saying more nice things to each other. Maybe feeling that support would bleed off into other areas and we’d be nicer to everyone regardless of race, age, sex or religion.

However, last night Darcy Reeder thwarted my plan by sending a message that sent me to the moon: “Thank you so much for being a good man/person.”

It may sound stupid but I’ve been really trying to be a good person the last few years and Darcy saying that meant the world to me. I’d be willing to bet that if you said it to more people they’d like it also. Most people are good. Maybe if we said that more often we wouldn’t do so many bad things to each other.

There you have it — 11 phrases that people love to hear.

If you hadn’t noticed while reading them, none of them are all that complicated. In fact, most of the phrases and the words that make them up are pretty small.

Our words hold power — both good and bad.

Why not say the good ones?

I’d love to know the words or phrases that you love to hear down below. Maybe we can say them more often to each other.

How do the rich get richer?

Over the past four months I’ve gained a newfound understanding of self-worth.

I used to break down my money into two categories; salary and savings. The process was very simple. To make an income, I provided my time and skills in exchange for money. I would then keep a percentage of my bi-weekly paycheck for myself and put the rest of it into a savings account.

The truth is, that this is how you make good money. It’s not how you make great money.

In his New York Times bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss explains why being the second-lowest paid person at his company persuaded him to start BrainQUICKEN LLC on the side and slowly build it up. This venture turned his 40k per year into 40k per month.

Had Ferris stayed complacent with his single source of revenue, and focused all of his energy on climbing the corporate ladder, he never would have become the entrepreneurial icon we know today.

The key to making more starts with a higher level understanding of wealth, and the two different ways we define income.

The First

is active income. This is your full-time salaried or part-time hourly job. It also umbrellas side hustles like freelance work, Uber driving, Fiverr gigs, etc. It is the process of trading your time for money.

The Second

is passive income. These are earnings that may not require as much hands on work, including investing, real estate, e-commerce, royalties, etc. This allows you to have some financial flexibility outside of your 9–5, without having to necessarily be present to reap the benefits.

The Secret To Financial Success Is..

understanding how to build up multiple revenue streams combining both active and passive income.

A lot of people settle on their career salary, or sit on it for a decade before making a move. If your ambition is to be average, then that mindset is fine. But to be in the top tier of wealth, you need to start figuring out different ways to make money simultaneously.

Right now I am operating on 4 income streams:

  • Full-Time Marketing job
  • Medium Partner Program
  • Freelance Writing
  • Savings Investments

By the end of 2020 I hope to have added at least 4 of the following to that list:

  • Personal training
  • Paid surveys
  • Business or real estate investing
  • Robo adviser investing (Betterment, Acorns)
  • Book sales
  • Ghost writing
  • Educational webinars

On their own, these income sources are good, but rather modest. When combined, they elevate me to a different level of success.

Ashton Kutcher is a great example. You may know him as the famous film/television star. He’s had a respectable career and made a lot of money. But even if he never received another movie role again, Kutcher would still be wealthier than 99% of the world due to his diversified portfolio of revenue streams. Since the early 2000’s he’s owned a production company, invested in tech startups, and formed a venture capital firm.

Wealth is more than money. It is a series of learned strategies and behaviors.

“If we command our wealth, we shall be free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed”- Edmund Burke

In Conclusion

This process won’t happen overnight. I’m sure most people reading this don’t have more than a few income streams yet.

If you do, fantastic. You’re already on the path to a wealthier future.

If not, don’t panic.

Even if you only have one that’s fine. Your goal should be to get the ball rolling on researching the opportunities that exist out there to make more money.

Start with something easy like investing a small percentage of your paycheck. Over time you can build out different income streams until your side earnings are matching your salary. Then push for more.

I am not a morning person whatsoever.

Late last year, I began waking up at 5:30 AM to write for an hour then drive to work at an engineering firm. It was the hardest fucking thing I had done in a long time. But I did it.

And you know what?

I bet you could too.

Imagine how much better your day would be if you accomplished your hardest, most important work first thing in the morning. The rest of your day would be a breeze. You could relax in the evening without feeling like a bum or stressing because you let another day slip by without doing what you planned.

My story of waking up early consists of a 50/30/10/10 split of determination, preparation, execution, and luck.

Let me explain…

The 50% Determination

Basically, it’s going to take some effort.

It sounds extremely cheesy, but if you want to wake up earlier, you’ve got to really want it.

Several years ago, I tried waking up earlier to write for my blog before work. I did it once and it felt amazing — then I never did it again.

I didn’t want it bad enough.

It’s hard to wake up early when you have a 7 to 5 PM day job in engineering. It’s much easier to skip writing, go to work, consider the day a success, and not work on your own dreams.

At some point, you’ve got to become obsessed with whatever your dream is. For me, that was writing.

Currently, I wake up at 5:30 AM every weekday morning (I give myself an extra hour or two to rest on the weekends). I write, then head to work. This article is a product of my early rising habit.

What changed?

I realized I wanted to be a writer.

I was no longer satisfied being some mook trying to make money online and half-assing it.

I love engineering, but I don’t want to do it forever. I want to be a writer. I still suck at writing, but I want to get better. I need to get better. I’m obsessed with getting better.

I knew if I wanted to be a better writer and change my life, I had to make it a priority. That became my determination for waking up earlier.

If I didn’t wake up earlier, I couldn’t write.

If I couldn’t write, I wasn’t a writer.

If I wasn’t a writer, I wasn’t chasing my dream.

Until you get to this obsession, until you have this revelation, you’ll keep convincing yourself waking up early isn’t worth it. You’ll press the snooze and stay in bed.

How bad do you want it? That’s what comes first.

The 30% Preparation

There were precisely five things I started doing that helped prepare me for waking up early.

1. Going to bed earlier

I realized that if I planned to wake up 2 hours earlier than normal, and I normally sleep 8 hours, I better get to bed 2 hours earlier to keep the status quo and my body functioning properly.

2. “Winding down” before bed

About an hour before bed, I stop using any tech devices. On the rare occasion I break my routine, I always make sure to dim my phone or laptop screen.

Then, I’ll make myself a hot cup of tea, meditate for about 10 minutes, and get into bed.

Once there, I’ll read from a dimly lit Kindle until I reach a good stopping place or my eyes can’t keep themselves open.

At this point, it’s night-night for Jason.

3. Planning my morning the day before

Planning my mornings the day before, so that I knew exactly what to work on, helped tremendously. I get right to work and don’t waste any time or energy.

Operating this way, my mornings feel like a success, and I want to keep waking up early.

4. No more drinking caffeine after 2pm

5. Exercising during the day

I’m not saying you must do these five things if you want to wake up early, but they helped me significantly. At the very least, some sort of plan for waking up early is essential. Incorporate some of my preparation ideas above along with your own.

The 10% Execution

I set an alarm the night before and say to myself…

“I have to get up at five-thirty tomorrow to write.”

Don’t skip this step. It might seem silly, but trust me, the mental pep-talk helps.

Then, in the morning upon hearing my alarm, I get up and immediately leave the bedroom. No snoozing for this guy. From the moment I reach for my alarm, I keep myself in motion and roll out of bed.

Don’t lay in bed checking social media, email, or whatever. Just get up and leave the bed.

Do give yourself something to look forward to after waking up. For me, that’s a hot cup of coffee before getting down to business.

Try setting your alarm across the room if you struggle with snoozing. I used to do this but don’t anymore. For some strange reason, it actually didn’t work for me, though I’ve heard others who do it with success. I found it to be a fun game running to the alarm and seeing how fast I could dive back into bed. My brain is weird sometimes.

The 10% Luck

About a month after consistently waking up early, I felt a dip in motivation. Not everything was going my way:

I was working longer hours at my day job.

I bought and moved into a new home.

Things were hectic.

Things were stressful.

I wanted to sleep in.

For most, these would be viable excuses to give up. But, then my wife and I decided to adopt a new puppy. I’ll be damned if that little guy didn’t help me through my short slump to stay on habit.

Every morning without fail, our new puppy, Mose, would wake up between 4:30 AM and 5:30 AM having to relieve himself. Not wanting the dog to think it was OK to shit on the carpet, I made sure to wake up and let him outside. Once I was up, I figured I might as well continue with my writing habit.

Sometimes, a little bit of luck goes a long way.

Though, maybe luck isn’t the right way to phrase this. Maybe “accountability” would be better.

Having a partner to keep you accountable can make a world of difference. For me, that happened to be Mose.

Even the obsessed and highly disciplined can fall victim to the perfect storm of life’s problems. Prepare for this by having a back-up: an accountability partner to carry you through those tough times.

Create your own luck, so-to-speak.

And now, it’s bedtime for this guy. How about you? See you tomorrow bright and early.

This is part three in my series on Modern Software Development Practices. In the series, I plan to cover multiple ways in which software engineers can improve their software by improving their processes and practices, all of which I have learned and lived through my time as a Software Consultant at ThoughtWorks and experiences at my current job at a large retail company in Germany.

As someone who likes to advocate for things which I believe to be very beneficial to the efficiency of a Software Development Team, I have spent a lot of time dealing with push-back on some of the practices I believe in.

One of my absolute favorite topics is Trunk Based Development (TBD). Coincidentally, that topic also receives the most backlash from other Software Developers.

I love this topic because I do not like stereotypes, and Trunk Based Development directly combats a lot of stereotypes that Software Developers fall victim to.

When people outside of our industry hear the phrase “Software Developer”, they think of the mythos of a Software Engineer. Almost like a mythical creature, this is someone who puts on headphones, works with 3 or 4 monitors, and green characters on black screens. Someone who receives a task and then goes away into their cave-like work environment until they have completed their task a short time later.

A perfect example of this, is the creator of the 2048 game. Rumor has it a 19 year old built the game in one weekend, and 2.5 weeks after releasing the game, the game had 100 million plays

That is the Software Developer stereotype perfectly personified. While sometimes cool, I believe that this has a negative impact when developing software as a team.

Trunk Based Development is a form of development which literally can not be done while the stereotype developer exists in the team.

Trunk Based Development requires teamwork, empathy, and openness. All of which are best achieved as a team, and not as an individual.

What is Trunk Based Development?

Trunk Based Development, also known as TBD, is a software development process which is defined by trunkbaseddevelopment.com (a great source for all things TBD) as:

“A source-control branching model, where developers collaborate on code in a single branch called ‘trunk’ *, resist any pressure to create other long-lived development branches by employing documented techniques. They therefore avoid merge hell, do not break the build, and live happily ever after.”

The idea is, instead of creating a feature branch on which a developer develops code, and then merges into the master branch, the feature is developed in small chunks, each of which are directly pushed onto master when finished.

In other words… the team develops without using any branches.

Now… I know that most developers who have been in the industry for a while are instantly turned off to the idea of TBD when they see “pushed onto master”… but hear me out and I’ll try to address the concerns I hear the most throughout this article.

Why’s it important?

Once again I go back to the Four Key Metrics as defined in Accelerate and their importance. A direct quote from the book:

“our research highlights practices that are essential to successful technology transformations. These include the use of version control, deployment automation, continuous integration, trunk based development, and a loosely coupled architecture.”

Practices which are not just important.. but essential. Meaning absolutely necessary. I wrote about Continuous Integration a few posts ago and Trunk Based Development is in that list as well.

Apart from the fact that small code changes in a Trunk Based Development format results in much less merge conflicts (which means happier developers), Trunk Based Development helps teams improve in a number of areas:

Deployment Frequency and Mean Time to Recovery

TBD paired with a CI/CD pipeline results in every “green” commit (i.e. the complete code functionality has been checked via tests) being deployed to production. Pushing every change to the master branch means lots of integration and potentially deployment. I have been in teams where we deployed 30–40 times in one day to production. An increased deployment frequency is the second of the four key metrics.

I can remember a situation in that very same team where we had deployed something to a front-end application which was something along the lines of “display the list of items with their respective attributes” and we had forgotten to check for null or undefined values. This caused the front end to have an error.

Of course this is something that could happen to any team regardless of what processes they use… but what was amazing was that we noticed it right away, and were able to write a test and fix for the issue which was committed and deployed to production in less than 5 minutes. A low Mean Time to Recovery is the third of the four key metrics.

This ability to deploy changes quickly via Trunk Based Development and CI/CD also allows the team to “roll-forward” when problems are discovered, rather than “rolling-back”.

Code Quality and Knowledge Sharing

The biggest fear teams usually have when considering TBD is that the quality of code in the code base will suffer when doing Trunk Based Development and the potential for errors will go up. I, however, have exactly the opposite opinion and believe that TBD results in much more resilient and higher quality code.

Most teams who use feature branches, use the pull request method, where other developers in the team will look at, and comment on, code that a developer has worked on over X amount of time.

With TBD, since there are no feature branches, that also means no pull requests. Insert worried Senior Dev here. This does not have to be an issue. Most teams just want a “4 Eye Principle” which says that at least 2 developers should have looked at and approved all code that is merged into the master branch.

My team does the “4 Eye Principle” as well, but we do it via Pair Programming (article coming soon). Since there are no pull requests in TBD, Pair Programming becomes extremely necessary.

Two developers working together to solve the same problem is quite often better than one developer working alone. All developers have varying levels of experience and familiarity with the tech stack and/or system the team is developing. Pairing with each other provides the opportunity to learn from teammates at an accelerated rate.

Imagine how quickly a junior engineer or new hire levels up when pairing with a senior engineer in the team. Team coding guidelines are instantly learned and met, design decisions are made before the work is done rather than as feedback in a pull request, and code is written together resulting in both developers having knowledge of how it works (i.e. less knowledge silos).

Teamwork

Pair Programming is obviously a form of teamwork as well, but TBD improves teamwork in the team due to the way it requires empathy from all members.

It can be challenging as a senior developer who has worked on a system for many years to feel comfortable with new or less experienced team members committing to the code base without the senior seeing it. But the empathy required to be ok with this is generally a very positive quality to have as a teammate. Believing that one’s teammates are capable at doing their jobs and not needing to be the master branch gate-keeper is very important to the confidence and trust within the team.

Senior engineers are smart and have good experience most of the time, but the people in their teams are smart too. If the senior would like to see the code written by a junior, they can pair together, and sooner than they know it, the junior will be writing code that the senior would be proud of.

Potential Challenges:

Unfinished features

Nobody wants to push unfinished features, such as a button with no functionality, to customers on production. To get around this, teams can implement feature toggles behind which unfinished features are hidden. When a feature is not done, the feature toggle is turned off, and when the final piece is done and ready to be released, the feature flag can be toggled on (or removed completely). With feature toggles, teams can even do A/B testing or Canary Releases.

Tests and monitoring

Trunk Based Development requires that a team has a strong test suite and good monitoring in order to catch errors as soon as possible. The quicker the feedback loop, the better. A broken pipeline becomes the number one priority for the team members who broke the pipeline, to prevent any others from pulling broken code.

This can be easily prevented by implementing very small changes, having a development environment which is as similar as possible to your testing and production environments, and by running pipeline tasks locally before pushing (ex. using git hooks).


I know many teams who have implemented Trunk Based Development as described in this article, and none of them have switched back to the more common Pull Request model.

Some teams even switch to Trunk Based Development for other reasons, such as they want to do more pair programming, so they switched to TBD in order to make pair programming a bit more of a requirement.

I think the important part to remember is that like all things in software, and in life, the same thing doesn’t work for everybody. It is important that teams look at what works best for them. An example would be a team I knew who had an odd number of developers, meaning they did not have the ability to pair on all tasks, and were sometimes burned out from pairing so frequently. In this situation they had feature branches which were created and merged on the very same day, which surprisingly enough, counts as TBD.

Next steps: try out Trunk Based Development, adapt it to the team’s needs, profit.

A Guide To Handling Family Drama

Family. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. It’s safe to say that this can be a tricky topic for many. No matter how much you love them (or hate them), families can be dysfunctional and spending time with them during holidays and family events can trigger conflict or, dredge up old arguments.

Even the closest of families experience conflict when plied with alcohol and when forced to spend a prolonged amount of time together. All of this makes for a stressful time and feelings of anger, anxiety and stress can easily arise.

Stress Chemicals

We’ve talked about brain chemicals before and how many of our feelings, actions and decisions are influenced by the release of chemicals in the brain. The same applies here. Certain chemicals will be released in your brain when you experience a stressful situation. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Cortisol
  • Epinephrine (Adrenaline)
  • Norepinephrine
  • Dopamine.

These chemicals combined can produce physiological changes that “make the heart pound, breathing quicken, muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.” This reaction is known to us as “fight-or-flight” response, fight the threat or take flight to safety. This response is the body’s natural “survival mechanism” in life-threatening or dangerous situations. In an article, Harvard Health comments on how the body can often sometimes act irrationally “the body can overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.

Stress over a long period can affect your physical and psychological health, with chronic stress leading to “brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.” As family drama can contribute to this, we’ve come up with some science-backed tips and techniques on reducing stress and handling family conflict, not just during Christmas but also, Easter, Thanksgiving, Eid, Hanukkah and even Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Coping Imagery

International stress experts Stephen Palmer and Cary Cooper wrote a book titled How To Deal With Stress. In this book, they provide many helpful techniques on how to successfully handle stress. One of the most effective stress management techniques that is recommended to use in “difficult situations or potential stress scenarios” such as those created at family gatherings, is called “coping imagery” and it goes a little something like this

  1. Think of a future situation that you are stressed about
  2. Note down aspects of the situation that you are more stressed about
  3. Develop ways to deal with these difficulties.

(Palmer and Cooper, 2013)

This is a great technique to try before you go to any family event, especially if there is a particular situation or argument which may arise. By using this coping imagery, it enables you to prepare yourself for what may potentially go wrong and what you can do to solve the situation. Furthermore, as you’ve already envisioned all the possibilities of conflict and identified ways to handle them, if and when they do arise, you may feel less stressed as the family starts to arrive.

If coping imagery isn’t enough for you. Don’t worry, there’s more to come.

Topics To Avoid

According to Karen Dempsey of The Awareness Centre, one of the leading providers of counselling and psychotherapy, there are several topics which tend to be the cause of family conflict and these include:

  • Money or the lack of it
  • Sibling/ family attention
  • Expectations of family members
  • Relationship with in-laws
  • Communication or rather, lack of from certain family members.

Staying away from these topics around the dinner table will help to steer clear of arguments and raised tempers. Instead, try to navigate the conversation towards neutral topics of conversation such as the weather, sports, news, hobbies, work and maybe ask Uncle Terry if he’s seen any new films on Netflix or if he’s heard Stormzy’s new album.

Managing Conflict

In case you’ve tried these tips and for whatever reason an argument can’t be avoided then here is one way of productively coming to a resolution. The Awareness centre recommends you follow these tips in managing conflict:

  1. Check your mindset, are you trying to prove your point or to resolve the conflict? Identify what your aim is (proving your point isn’t the best start)
  2. Cooldown first, it’s best not to enter a situation if you’re raging and stressed, this can inflame the situation instead of calm it
  3. Own it, it takes two to tango, own up to your part of the conflict
  4. Listen, listening to the other person may help you to understand the situation better and will let them know that you care about resolving the issue
  5. Use “I”, using terms such as “you make me angry, this is your fault” etc can add fuel to the fire and will feel like you’re blaming the other person. Using “I” shifts the focus onto your feelings rather than their actions.

Regardless of what happens, it’s best to remember that unfortunately you can’t choose your family and at least you only have to see them a couple of times of the year. Try to focus on the positives and generally avoid any disliked or problematic family members. And if a conflict is non-negotiable, well, we hope we have emotionally armed you to tackle it head-on.

 

Train Your Brain To Save Money

This is it. This is your year. Your year to become the boss of your dosh.

Forget the years previous, where saving may have been at the bottom of your priority list and instead put all your focus into this year. And make it the year of the big bucks, the decent dollar bills and the savin’ haven. Call it what you want (because we’ve run out of ideas).

A study by neuroscientists at Cornell University found that we can blame our brain for being terrible at saving money. The study suggests that “saving is less valuable to our brains, which devote less attentional resources to it… It’s more than a financial problem of making ends meet. Our brains find saving more difficult to attend to… It’s practicing attention and intention to save, to strengthen the value of it for your brain. It’s not the amount of dollars that matters.” It seems practice makes the pockets fuller.

And thanks to a few ingenious science-backed ideas laced throughout this article, you’ll be equipped with the best money saving tips on the inter web. Ready to save for your one-way ticket to Savin’ Ville?

Money Not Spent Is Money Earned

First, let’s take a look at the brain’s response to money and why it wants more, more, more.

A study by Mathias Pessiglione et al., looked at how the brain and body react to monetary rewards. They found that there may be unconscious motivation in humans when it comes to money. And here’s how and why:

“We imaged motivational processes, implemented in a paradigm that varied the amount and reportability of monetary rewards for which subjects exerted physical effort.”

Interestingly, without knowing, the participants used more force for higher amounts of money. “Such a motivational effect is underpinned by engagement of a specific basal forebrain region.” A region at the front and bottom of the brain. Their findings reveal “this region as a key node in brain circuitry that enables expected rewards to energize behavior, without the need for the subjects’ awareness.” Whether we like it or not, we are driven subconsciously by money and the rewarding feeling we get from spending it.

It’s no wonder that only 40% of U.S. adults “feel able to pay an unexpected expense of $1,000 or more” with more than a 1⁄3 that would borrow the money to pay the expense off. Our brain loves the feeling of spending, so it’s no wonder we spend and don’t save.

How on earth can you resist this built-in brain reaction? Well, it takes effort and dedication to train your brain to respond differently to money. And it’s worth it once you know how.

Become Appreciative

By appreciating the money you have and understanding how different your life would be without it, you will become more aware of its value. By understanding the benefits money can have can make you realise it’s cushioning prowess. Money can often lower stress levels and increase psychological comfort and therefore have a positive impact on your life.

Try living on a tiny budget for a week and see how it impacts your stress levels. A budget of £5 a day on food and essentials may shock you into appreciating your current financial situation. Science has proven that being grateful and appreciative can impact positively on the brain too.

A 2003 study by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough from the University of California and Davis University of Miami, found that participants who wrote a list each week of things they were grateful for, displayed a positive increase in their well-being. Those who wrote a list of negative or neutral things didn’t display the same positive effects. The scientists stated that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.” Being grateful for the money you have can positively affect your well-being and may encourage your saving habits in the short and long-term.

Become Cash Only

Cash is officially queen/king. By paying with cash you can help track your spending with an eager eye. Having something physical like notes in your hands, makes the buying process more real and can encourage you to think twice about spending the big bucks.

Neuroscientists like Somers explain that paying with credit cards “isn’t even perceived by our brain as spending.” Certain areas of the brain are linked to pleasures you feel when you spend wonga.

Some studies have shown that when someone’s brain is scanned visualising using a credit card, the pleasure area lights up more than someone who is buying the same item with cash. Why? Having to fork out actual cash makes the brain pause to give these purchases a second thought. And it’s that brief pause that can decrease the brain’s pleasure response leading to less impulse purchases.

Another handy tip is when you go to purchase something on your favourite website and your card details have been saved, requiring you only to click and buy, try removing these details. Make the process longer and more thought-provoking by having to manually type the details in instead. This should help your brain to think more about impromptu purchases.

Become Aware

Over the next few weeks, actively watch your spending habits, as if you were a narrator of your own life:

“Tony is now spending £35 on a quirky 5 foot lava lamp he has no need for or space for at home.”

“Tony is now spending £3.50 on a bar of overpriced chocolate because he’s feeling low.”

“Tony is on his Mac and spending £66 on a bird feeder for the garden he doesn’t yet have.”

By becoming conscious of how, when and why you spend, you’ll learn copious amounts about how and why you splosh the dosh. Being mindful and aware is the key to nailing your saving.

Monitor and note the following:

  • What impulses-to-buy do you have?
  • What mood are you in when you spend?
  • Do you ever spend when you’re stressed?
  • How long does the happy feeling last after spending?
  • How useful are the things you buy?

Become Pensive

There’s a 30 day rule whereby you wait 30 days after wanting to buy something, to see if you still want the item after the 30 days are up. 30 days can be too long sometimes and seems daunting to a newbie saver. Instead tweak the 30 day rule to 7 days at first and then 14 days.

If you find a beautiful piece of jewellery, a pair of well-made leather boots or a glass vase in the shape of Elton John, give it 7 to 14 days to decide whether or not to make Elton yours or not. By doing this, you’ll be training your brain to tackle and make decisions, big or small, tactically, decisively and calmly. As a result, you’ll end up with less stuff in the attic and instead have more cash in the kitty. What do you do with the money you would have spent? Pop it into your savings account instead.

Save, Save, Save

Even though saving is deemed to be less valuable to our brains than other things, like making ends meet, we still have the power to train our brains and override our natural instincts in order to control our spending habits. Like with all types of training, to be the best at it you have to work hard and keep on training to reap the rewards.

By dipping in and out of these 4 saving tips, you’ll begin to tap into the world of saving and discover how to control, become aware of and start to appreciate the money you have.

 

‘Tis The Season To Read A Good Book

Living in an electronic world of iPhones vs Androids, social media often trumps good old fashioned reading. But, as it turns out, reading is good for you and has some great benefits for your brain and overall well being.

And what better time to boost your brain than during the holidays. So here is a list of three science-backed reasons why you should pause the drinking, eating and shopping, and pick up a book.

1. Reading Improves Theory of Mind (ToM)

Theory of mind is a social-cognitive skill which is defined as “human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that they may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires.” The general idea is that books which feature “in-depth” representations of characters, their inner feelings and thoughts, help us to understand others and ourselves better.

In a report published by The New School for Social Research, David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano write on the importance of theory of mind: “Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies” demonstrating why reading is a necessary skill we should practise regularly. In the report, Kid and Castano present five experiments. The experiments show how reading literary fiction leads to better performance on tests of affective ToM, cognitive ToM and overall can enhance ToM versus other forms of literature and not reading at all (Kidd and Castano, 2013).

2. Reading Could Help You Live Longer

We don’t mean living forever here, or in a Wolverine kind of way, but according to a Yale University study, those who read books often live for around two years longer than their non-book-reading counterparts.

This study suggest reading books has a “survival advantage” that was “significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines.” Book readers had a huge 23-month advantage than those that read newspapers or magazines (Bavishi, Slade and Levy, 2016). This is because reading can help engage and improve cognitive processes and abilities, such as empathy and emotional intelligence.

The survival advantage of reading books works through a cognitive mediator

(Bavishi, Slade and Levy, 2016)

3. Reading Builds Your Vocabulary

As well as improving your cognitive abilities and helping you to live longer, reading helps to build your vocabulary and linguistic skills. The Oxford Language report, produced by the Oxford University Press, surveyed more than 1,300 teachers in the UK. Out of those surveyed, half of the teachers reported that “at least 40% of their pupils lacked the vocabulary needed to access their learning.”

Furthermore, a study published in 2015 titled The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect suggests how “Individual differences in vocabulary development may affect academic or social opportunities.” The study used and collected a sample of 485 assessments of written word reading skills and oral vocabulary knowledge from kindergarten, 4th grade, 8th and 10th grade. The results revealed that “above average readers experienced a higher rate of vocabulary growth than did average readers.” Research from this study highlights how reading is crucial for your vocabulary growth and learning opportunities.

So why not pick up a book over the Christmas holidays, there’s no reason not to and your brain will thank you for it. Or why not give the gift of knowledge and share the joy of storytelling with Peak’s list of books to read and gift this Christmas:

  1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  2. The Elves and the Shoemaker by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
  3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
  4. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  5. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  6. Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies

 

Sex can have a direct positive influence on the brain. But it’s not as simple as just ‘having sex.’ In fact it’s a little more complicated than that. To feel the real benefits of being the best in bed, you may need to learn a thing or two in the boudoir.

But first, let’s talk about the other benefits of having positive sex. We spoke to Kate Moyle, Sexual & Relationship Psychotherapist who features on the BBC’s Sex On The Couch and she kindly shared the following:

“When it comes to good sex, like most things in life the more we do something that we enjoy, then the more we want to do it, it is positively reinforcing; but when we aren’t having a good time it can really put us off. It’s not just the act of sex but the why; Cindy Meston and David Buss in their 2007 paper Why Humans Have Sex, identified 237 reasons that people were having sex. Some reported stress relief which is not just the psychological impact of letting go and experiencing pleasure, but studies have found that Oxytocin, ‘the cuddle hormone’ released in sex and orgasm, counteracts the effect of cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’.”

Boost Your Bedroom Antics

There are many things you can learn in order to give a boost to your bedroom antics, but we’ve hand picked one method that has been scientifically proven to have direct brain and body boosting effects. Oh, and it’s not going to break any bones or strain your back along the way, so if you’re into that, stop reading now.

It’s not quite kama sutra, (although it may also be worth exploring this avenue). It’s not meditation either. What it is, is a mixture of science, brain chemicals and fun.

So if you learn one thing this century about sex, then this should be it. Master it and you’ll receive some exceptional brain gains.

It’s All About Nailing Your Breathing

“People who are into breath play say it can heighten sexual arousal and make orgasms more intense” says Healthline.com.

Nice, but what’s the science behind it all? Becoming conscious of your breathing can open your mind and body to new sensations, thoughts and reactions. In Rowe’s 2018 work, they state that “breathing deeply can increase alpha waves and calm the mind, which is absolutely critical for effective brain functioning.” The Transformative Power of Deep, Slow Breathing by Peter Deadman explores the awesomeness of breathing:

“Slow, deep, lower abdominal breathing… is a powerful tool for healing and transformation. A wide range of emotional and physical problems can be helped by slow breathing… For all of us, the growing understanding of the physiology behind deep breathing offers a wonderful insight into the interplay of yin and yang in every aspect of our lives.”

Brain And Body Benefits

Breathing together during intercourse is the perfect way to reap some super brain and body benefits. Deep breathing can release feel-good dopamine and endorphins which ultimately give you a happiness boost and can soothe the mind. By focusing on your breathing, you don’t lose focus throughout the experience, as it stops your mind from wandering to thoughts of work, the washing, which restaurant you’ll dine at tomorrow night…

In 2018, Trinity College Dublin discovered that breathing exercises can sharpen your mind, thanks to a “neurophysiological link between breathing and attention.”

And what better time to practice than during intercourse. The study highlights the varied cognitive benefits such as:

  • Increased ability to focus.
  • Decreased mind wandering.
  • Improved arousal levels.
  • More positive emotions.
  • Decreased emotional reactivity.

“The research shows for the first time that breathing… directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline.” Noradrenaline is released when you’re exercising, facing a challenge, emotionally stimulated, focused and curious. It can encourage the brain to develop new connections and is described as a “brain fertiliser” by neuroscientists, ultimately, improving the brain’s chemistry “in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.”

Lead author of the study, Michael Melnychuk, explained: “There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer.”

The Technique

Keen to try out this breathing technique? Don’t blame you. Best Health Mag describes how to do this whole controlled breathing and partner synchronisation thing properly:

  • Breathe in deeply together. This involves a bit of eye contact and concentration.
  • Exhale together. Try to keep in sync and maintain the inhale-exhale rhythm.
  • Do this numerous times. Until the breathing rhythm starts to come naturally.
  • Now it’s time for breath exchange, where you both do the opposite breathing.
  • So whilst you inhale, they exhale.
  • And whilst you exhale, they inhale.
  • They recommend doing this for at least 10 minutes… If possible.

And that’s it. Pretty effortless once you know how. However, for the first handful of times, it will take a conscious effort to firstly remember to do it and secondly to master it. But once you do, the science-backed benefits for your body and your brain will be vast. Not to mention the outer body connection you’ll create with the person with whom you’re experiencing it with.

It’s time to share what you’ve learnt and have fun with it too. Your brain will thank you for it.

More Tips

Looking for more tips? Rebecca Adkin, author, TV expert and all round sexpert shares a few intimate tips with us:

“Spontaneity creates the excitement and thrills that sometimes are not at the forefront with planned sex. The element of surprise is stimulating for the brain and body! Don’t miss the short windows of opportunity when they arise if you’re in the mood to ravish your partner. It will keep the passion alive, leaving you both with an enormous sense of well being.

Without sex, the stresses of everyday life’s work and family etc… can build up and create tension, often this can be released by a quickie! People I work with report how their desire increases and sex drives boost when they have sex instead of getting overloaded with stress and arguing. The release this gives them leaves them with a clear head to face problems and situations at work or home with ease.

An orgasm releases the chemicals into your brain that act as a pain reliever for headaches so that age old excuse for avoiding sex, is not valid!”

Brought to you by Peak, makers of the Peak – Brain Training app. Start brain training today:

 

Don’t just criticize the result, coach the approach

Earlier in my career as a software manager, I was presenting my team’s monthly progress to my skip-level manager during a one-on-one chat. I glossed over an important technical detail, which led me to a conclusion that was based on an educated guess, rather than hard facts. Having not realized this, I presented the conclusion in a matter-of-fact manner, expecting to move on to the next topic. The manager stopped me.

“Explain this to me again, how did you make this conclusion? Why couldn’t it be any of these other possibilities?”

An alarm bell went off in my mind, I realized I had made a mistake, and was taken aback by the inquisitive question. I scrambled sentences together to try to explain that I might have made a mistake, and will go back and look at the data and come back with a more complete answer later in the day. Usually, the conversation would have moved on from there, or ended with the manager belaboring the point of you shouldn’t make this mistake next time, etc. Instead, what this manager said next, was one of the most profound feedbacks I’ve received in my professional career:

“As a people manager, you will become less in touch with technical details over time. You job is to slow that process down as much as you can.”

Rather than remarking on the same mistake, the manager was extrapolating to critique the approach I took to arrive at the conclusion, and gave feedback on how to fix my approach, and not just on this one issue, but in general.

Leaders must avoid training employees to do as they say, but rather focus on delivering these three stages of feedback to actually coach employees to think.

  1. Why is the thing not good enough.

Good leaders set high expectations, then work to bring everyone up to their expectations.

That means sometimes your employees will not meet your expectation. In these situations, how you as the leader deliver your feedback can either inspire people to be motivated to work harder and smarter, or create an environment where your employees feel unvalued, or worse, fear they might disappoint you again.

It should hardly surprise anyone that constructive criticism is more useful than just giving people an earful of expletives. However, as leaders become more busy as their time become more stretched, it can be easy to develop empathy gaps, and let out disappointments at the expense of forgoing important teaching moments.

After all, by coaching the approach, even though it may take a hair more effort in the moment, you are paying it forward, so next time you may not have to critique the result.

Retrospection is often the cure of willful ignorance

Slightly more than half a decade ago, I accidentally ended up on my (now defunct) startup’s tech team. In truth, I was supposed to be in marketing but after the boss caught onto my obsessive drive to learn, he threw me in as the front end dev for the pricing systems revamp.

It was the first time I’ve ever heard of Angular, RESTful APIs, AWS, Git and Java Spring. With the guidance of the senior backend developer, I quickly flourished and upgraded myself from complete noob to junior developer.
My excessive growth was not by accident. At home, I was experimenting, tinkering and creating side projects.

Then I got promoted within six months, ended up with my own small team of three and then promoted again six months after that. Within a two year period, I somehow found myself as a team leader and was in charge of a dozen other developers while delivering projects and features every other week.

Things started to get crazy — work started to follow me home. Time became scarce and nurturing myself mentally and professionally took a back seat. More than half a decade later, it took me longer than it should figure out where I went wrong.

The moral of the story: Protect your time

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

— H. Jackson Brown Jr., P.S. I Love You

When I started down my path as a developer, I found myself eager to please and prove to everyone that I am a proficient and capable at coding. As a result, I would do anything that my bosses and managers required I do — from organizing office events, getting gifts for birthdays, leavers and anniversaries, to playing the UX designer and marketing campaigns coordinator — whilst being the lead developer.

Perhaps this is just the life inside a startup. Going corporate had its own flavor and methods of stretching you beyond your limits too.

I did a lot of things in my early days and the load followed me even when I wasn’t actually supposed to do them. People just expected me to do it because they knew I was capable of. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, my time became completely engulfed by the thing known as work.

I quickly lost touch with my priorities. I would try and reason with myself that I will always have tomorrow, next weekend, the week after that or maybe in a month — until it got to a point where I willfully ignored the truth that the idea of later will never come.

When people asked me how I was, I would always reply ‘busy’ — not happy, not excited, not anything that was particularly adventurous or worthy — just ‘busy’.

Because ‘busy’ is what happens when you forget to protect your time and neglect to nurture yourself.

Why you need to protect your time

When you don’t protect your time, you are selling yourself short of your true worth. When you readily give away this limited and personal resource, you are forgoing the potential to work on yourself and do what is most important to you.

Protecting your time gives you the physical and mental space to move, to do, to explore spaces, spaces, and possible opportunities. When you protect your time, you are actively giving yourself the ability to nurture your patch of grass rather than let it wilt away while you’re tending to the gardens of others.

However, sometimes we fall wayside and the issue becomes how do I gain back my time?

It turns out that the process of protecting your time and regaining it is approximately the same. Here are the 3 things I’ve figured out so far:

1. Set your boundaries

Figure out what’s most important to you and ruthlessly defend it. When you start compromising, then it means that your actions no longer endorse what you say is your priority.

Make the boundaries known to others too. Sometimes people can accidentally guilt you into giving your time to work on things that don’t really matter to you. You only did it because you feel obligated to do so, not because you’re passionate about it.

Learn to distinguish the difference between false obligations and your actual priorities.

2. Limit your active connections

“The most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.”
― Shannon L. Alder

In our hyper-connected world, it’s easy to form connections. However, sometimes certain connections take more time than they are worth. Some are toxic. Some are just mentally draining for no good reason. Some just make you dread waking up in the morning.

Learn to curate and filter your connections. You don’t have to completely disconnect and remove them if you don’t want to, but learn to limit your interactions with them. Work on finding new and better connections instead.

By better, I mean the ones that nurture and align with your personal visions and goals.

3. Be aware and wary of time sinkholes that do not benefit you mentally or physically

You know the ones — Facebook, Instagram and any other platforms that we’ve habituated our fingers to swipe into during our little pockets of time. These moments quickly turn into hours of nothingness.

Learn to be aware of your actions and only consume the mindlessness of scrolling when necessary. Your brain doesn’t need to switch off and numbed by the monotony and sameness of feeds — it needs proper rest which often comes in the form of sleep.

If not sleep, then your body needs exercise. Go out and move — and if you don’t want to move, spend time nourishing it instead. Do anything else that doesn’t involve scrolling because once you start, it just keeps going.

Final words

Learning to prioritize oneself is an art form that needs to be practiced and developed over time. While this may not apply to everyone, for me, learning to say no to the unimportant things after eons of saying yes to everything has been a learning curve.

It takes a certain self-awareness on what you truly want before you can correctly recognize and filter out the unimportant things.
In life, there are only a handful of priorities that matter to you and it takes honesty with yourself and understanding of what you don’t want to figure it all out.

Once that’s done, protecting your time becomes much easier because you know exactly what contributes to it and what doesn’t.