My 2016 New Year’s Resolutions! … And Why I’m Making Them In The First Place

I published the following post on Medium:

Last year I didn’t make any resolutions. I became a member of the don’t make goals and just try to be better everyday movement. That’s all well but guess what, I miss making resolutions, so I’m going to! I might not accomplish them all but in trying I’ll learn plenty of valuable things.

I think goals become harmful when you hinge your well being on accomplishing them. If you are conscious of all your growth on your journey towards your goal it doesn’t matter so much if you meet the goal or not because the growth is what you want. At the end of the day, $75K doesn’t mean that much. I could win the lottery, and I’d have met my goal, but that’s not what I want. I desire the experience and knowledge that comes with trying to accomplish these goals. With that said, here are my resolutions for 2016:

– $75K supplemental income from doing things I love
– Weigh >= 190 lbs (Currently, I weigh 170.2 lbs)
– Write and publish at least two books
– Record and release the audio book of Remember The Good Times
– Write and publish at least two apps
– Start the Remember The Good Times podcast
– Host an event related to Matt and I’s podcast, Check Your Backseat!
– Give more money and time to others
– Share and engage more on social media
– Be less afraid of asking others for help

I’d love to see your resolutions in the comments!

Best of 2015: Albums

5. Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic

So, I usually have a pretty good idea what my top albums of the year are. However, to be sure, I will skim through lists of what albums came out during the year. I was quickly scrolling through the list when something catches my eye, I unconsciously scroll upwards and overcorrect, I scroll down a bit, and there it is; Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic. How had this stayed off my radar?

I knew the band’s third album, the first one of theirs that I had ever purchased, was celebrating it’s 10-year anniversary year but somehow I failed to discover that they had a new album!

I have to admit, I still haven’t heard it all. I’m listening to it as I write this. Sure, it could be overhyped from just discovering the album, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The band whose Wikipedia page describes them as progressive metal doesn’t do them justice. Rock opera, the only label I can come up with doesn’t either. They mix elements of metal, rock, opera, and some of the most atmospheric sounds that you’ll ever hear together into an album that plays more like an Oscar winning movie than an album.

Coma Ecliptic is Between the Buried and Me’s third release since freeing themselves of Victory Records and like their two previous records on Metal Blade Records, it is a concept album. I haven’t even had a chance to study the lyrics, but I know it will bring me immense pleasure through the month of January.

Seriously, how awesome does this sound!?

The band has stated that the concept of Coma Ecliptic involves a man stuck in a coma, journeying through his past lives. It was added that the man faces a choice to either stay or move on to something better. Each song is its own episode in a sort of “The Twilight Zone-esque” fashion.

4. mewithoutYou – Pale Horses

Unlike Coma Ecliptic, Pale Horses was on my radar all year, and it didn’t let me down. The album draws from all the sounds of mewithoutYou’s 15-years of music making and wraps it up with a neat little bow.

3. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves

Well, it only took eight years, but the follow-up to their 2007 album We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (one of my favourite CD’s at the time of my graduation!) was released this spring, and it was one of my most listened to albums of the year.

The band’s sound hasn’t evolved a whole lot since their previous albums, but that was a plus for me. Strangers to Ourselves was chalked full of catchy, experimental and fun songs that I enjoyed all year long.

2. Punchline – Thrilled

I tried to temper my expectations for this album. Punchline’s 2012 EP, So Nice To Meet You, came at a perfect time in my life. It got me through so many tough times after the loss of my cousin. It reminded me of how great love can be. Their follow up full length, Thrilled, came out a few weeks ago.

Their sound had evolved since their previous work and I appreciated that. Some songs were catchier while others border lined on atmospheric. That said, nothing on the album was sticking with me on the level I was hoping for, but then the last song came on.

The album concludes with Green Hills. It is a beautiful song throughout, but I couldn’t help but feel sad while listening to it.

“Nothing’s ever gonna work out quite the way you think that it’s gonna work out … It’s gonna be different than you ever could have imagined,” the song’s chorus pronounces. As the song begins to fade out I was thinking to myself, man that’s hard having them end the album on such sad note, especially for a band that I associate with optimism and positivity. Then, as I thought it was over, everything changed.

The song comes back to life, and it’s bursting at the seams with feelings of hope and inspiration.

In the chorus, they say it’s going to be “different,” not good or bad, just different. Then they let the song define how we interpret what different means. In the beginning, I couldn’t help but think that different meant sadder. Sad things happen in life, and there is nothing we can do about it. Then when the whole song changes near the end, they remind us that there is beauty in that. Bad things may happen to us, but we can own them, they’re a part of our story, they help define who we are. Surrender, accept and try to appreciate what comes to you in this beautiful, miraculous thing we call life.

1. Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface

Blurryface was easily my most listened to album of the year and the soundtrack of my summer. I checked out the album after mildly enjoying it’s lead single, Tear In My Heart. I had no idea what to expect. My first thoughts listening to Heavydirtysoul were, “I had no idea these guys’ rapped.” Normally, this isn’t the sort of thing I’m into, but there was something about the song that I dug. Then I fell in love with the album’s second song, Stressed Out and enjoyed a few more of album’s upbeat songs as well. It was just such a fresh sound; no one song seemed too much like any other. I listened to Blurryface again, and again, and again. Each time, liking more songs until I could hardly choose between favourites.

I loved Blurryface, and it played during most of the big events of my year. I listened to it as I biked to worked during our gorgeous summer days. I listened to it driving to play in the slopitch league I joined this year. I listened to it on the way to the gym and during home workouts, I listened to it on my flight to Chicago and Kansas City. Basically, when anything big happened in 2015, this is what I was listening to.

What were your favourtite albums of this past year? Looking forward to anything this year? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

Christmas Mourning: Learning To Enjoy The Holidays After The Loss Of A Loved One

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Hayley, me, Kassandra, Klarke and Cara in our newest pajamas that we received every Christmas Eve

The following is a chapter of my book, “Remember The Good Times: How I’m Overcoming My Cousin & Her Son’s Murder.” It’s available on Amazon if you’d like to read more.

I believe nothing is impossible when it comes to changing the way that you think. However, there is a time of year in particular that I can’t imagine ever being the same. It will always be harder and haunt me more. Sadly, I’m talking about Christmas.

I have always reflected fondly on my childhood Christmas memories. Like many children, it was my favourite time of the year. While I enjoyed presents as much as the next kid, it was always visiting my nana’s when my Auntie Melanie, Uncle Les, and my cousins Hayley and Cara came out that was my favourite. While there are many memories, here are the ones that I most consistently recall.

One of the best times of the year and a sure-fire sign that Christmas was just around the corner was the arrival of the Sears Christmas Catalogue, The Wish Book. I’d spend hours flipping through it. Starting from the back, of course, that’s where all the toys were. It was at nana’s when things got fun though. Hayley and I would sit down at nana’s square kitchen table. A small cushion kept our butts from directly sitting on the wooden chair. First we would draw out the floor plan of our bedrooms on an 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper. Then we would go through The Wish Book, page by page, and pick out things that we wanted. We would draw them onto the floor plan of our ideal rooms. I don’t think we ever got or even asked for many of the things we wanted from there. It was just fun to imagine it.

Hayley and I spent most of our time hanging out in nana’s basement where there was no shortage of fun to be had. What must have been our favourite activity was sitting in a large, worn, brown chair. I guess it wasn’t so much that it was large but at the time we were small. We could easily sit side-by-side while we watched an endless loop of cartoons recorded on a VHS tape. Shows like The Care Bears, The Smurfs, The Flintstones, etc. It wasn’t uncommon for our parents to find us sound asleep in that chair at the end of the evening or in the middle of the afternoon.

Another place to sit was on a small rocking chair that Nana kept beside the brown chair. How neither of us flipped off the back of it or broke it all together, I’ll never know. We’d take turns rocking back and forth on it as fast we could. Sometimes we wouldn’t even take turns; we would both just go on it together.

There was also a wood-burning fireplace in the basement. During the holiday season, it would be lit more often than it wasn’t. I loved the smell the fireplace gave off just after it was lit. Once it had been burning for awhile, Hayley and I would play a game where we sat in front of it with our shirts rolled up our backs. We would see who could sit there the longest before one of us had to move because our back was too hot. I don’t remember how long we could sit there or which of us ever won.

Between the brown chair and the rocking chair was a counter where there would always be a bowl of shelled nuts and a nutcracker to crack them. We never excelled at breaking the shell of the nuts; we would get tiny pieces of shell everywhere. There were times where I’d pinch my hand in the cracker when I wasn’t paying too much attention (and even when I was!). Eventually, we’d manage to get a few of them out and after eating them, we’d inevitably become thirsty. That’s when we’d go to the “the cold room.”

The reason for it being called the cold room is probably apparent, it was colder than the rest of the rooms in the basement. The room was poorly insulated so my nana used it as a storage room. Just to the left of the door were the boxes of Co-op Gold pop. There were the red boxes that contained coke, the purple boxes with grape, the dark red boxes with black cherry and the orange boxes with, well, orange. The pop wasn’t quite cold but it wasn’t warm either. It was the perfect drinking temperature that pop could only acquire by sitting in that room. That wasn’t the only thing unusual about the pop.

It was at Nana’s that I learned a whole new way to savour drinking pop from a can. We would shake the can then just open the tab a crack, just enough for the pop to bubble out. Then you would sip it off the top of the can and shake the can a bit when you wanted more. Eventually, I’d get too impatient and crack the can open to finish it but this technique made our pop go from lasting ten or fifteen minutes to a half-hour or an hour. Thinking about it now, it was probably one of my first lessons in savouring things.

In addition to pop, there was an endless supply of baked goods. A particular favourite of mine, and it still probably is, was the lefse my nana made. Lefse is a thin Norwegian flatbread made out of mostly potatoes and flour. It can be topped with essentially anything you like. At nana’s we’d add butter and brown sugar before rolling it up to eat. I wasn’t a fan of butter so I just doubled down on the sugar.

On Christmas Eve, we were always allowed to open one present. Every year I hoped it would be an extravagant gift and every year it was the same thing, pajamas. Hayley, Cara, Klarke, myself, and eventually Kassandra would tear off the wrapping paper to reveal a cereal box. Inside there would be the pajamas that we would sleep in that night. We would all go change into them and then our parents took pictures of us sitting together. My nana carried this tradition on well into our teens.

Christmas morning my family opened our presents at our house and Hayley’s family at my nana’s. Eventually, we would make our way over there, often bringing one of our favourite gifts with us. We would discuss with each other what he got that year, Hayley would often just show me. Then it was back to all other fun activities.

As we aged, we would spend less time in the basement and more time with our parents. New traditions began (or, at least, I could remember taking part in them). Every Boxing Day we’d have a seafood brunch. The mainstays being fried oysters and popcorn shrimp. It took me years to acquire a taste for shrimp, and I’m still working on the oysters.

Some evenings we would sit at the table in my nana’s kitchen and play cards. Among the different games we would play, Spoons was the most infamous. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it is essentially the card equivalent of musical chairs. You put a pile of spoons in the middle of the table, one less spoon than there are people. You play with a deck of cards that consists of a four of a kind for each person playing. Then you deal out four cards each and begin passing a single card to your left until eventually someone gets a four of a kind. Then you turn into wild hyenas attacking a pack of zebras. The first time we played in my nana’s kitchen was almost fatal, or at least for her oven, when Uncle Les and Klarke tumbled out of chairs wrestling for a spoon and took the handle of the oven down with them. Scratches, nicks and trace amounts of blood being drawn was commonplace and bodies would sprawl across the table reaching for a final spoon. The cards didn’t fair much better as they would crumple and fold as we hurriedly passed them to the person beside us. Teams and alliances would form, well, at least, Klarke and I would try our best to make sure my mom ended up empty handed. How Hayley had the courage to play the year she was pregnant with Cayden still boggles my mind! Despite all the nicks and bruises, when the game ended, it was always my cheeks that were the sorest. I’d be smiling or laughing the entire time.

Since Hayley and Cayden’s passing, things have been hard around that time of year. The joy isn’t there like it used to be, almost like there is a dark cloud hanging over everything. It’s hard. I can’t imagine a time where I won’t yearn for times past during the holiday season. I think it will always be a struggle. I don’t know any techniques that will change this but acceptance can help.

Throughout the fall of 2012, I was getting by alright. I had my tattoo, pink socks and my positive mindset was becoming more consistent. I was starting to think maybe I was getting better. It didn’t last. These joyful memories I just described began to haunt me. For one reason or another, it had felt like my childhood was dead. I started torturing myself again. I was constantly reminded of these memories. From Christmas lights to fresh snowfall, every sign of the holidays started to cut into me, and not only did I let it, but I was also pushing the knife in deeper.

There was no defining moment for me where I had become fed up with being miserable again. One day, in that December of 2012, I decided I’d had enough and I was going to change it.

First, and perhaps the most important thing I did, I have already mentioned. I decided I was going to change. I didn’t know how but I was completely sure I would. I would be willing to try anything. I wouldn’t dismiss any ideas until after trying them. I was continuing to practice framing everything in a positive way. Once you completely believe something is attainable, that’s when you start working towards it, that’s when you won’t let anything or anyone (including yourself) stop you. It wasn’t until I believed that I could change, that changes slowly started taking place. That took a long time for me. However, I think if I had focused on just doing these few things, it would have happened much quicker.

I wrote out the excuses I was telling myself that I thought might be keeping me in a rut. I encourage you to do the same, much like you did with your fears a few chapters ago. Think hard, try to write out the actual things you tell yourself. Then address each one, and come up with evidence of why it might not be true. Here is what I had come up with for myself:

Reasons I should be miserable:

  • If I don’t feel miserable, it means I don’t care about Hayley.
  • Something unfair happened to our family.
  • She was taken too soon.
  • This shouldn’t have happened to her.


“If I don’t feel miserable it means I don’t care about her.”

With this belief, there is no way I can win. I’ll feel bad when I’m grieving over her and I’ll feel bad if I’m not grieving over her. Thinking like this only shows that I didn’t care about myself.

“Something unfair happened to our family.”

Unfortunately, things like this happen, who am I to decide if it’s fair or not? Is it fair that I had such a positive person in my life when many people go their whole lives not knowing a single supportive person? Is it fair that the people who love me have to deal with my despicable behaviour because I’m hung up on something that has nothing to do with them?

“They were taken too soon.”

Again, who am I to decide when someone’s life is supposed to end? Most people would probably agree that it was “too soon” but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. What this says is “they were taken too soon for our liking.” Either way, I’m assigning more negativity to the situation than I should be.

“This shouldn’t have happened to her.”

This is a hard one to accept. I like to imagine Hayley as a perfect human being. Unfortunately, no one is perfect and even she made bad decisions. I wish she had an opportunity to learn from her mistakes instead of them being fatal. At the end of the day, no one is exempt from having bad things happen to them, no matter what kind of person they are.

Now you might be thinking Karson you’re crazy for arguing against yourself on those points! You might disagree with my reasoning too. Despite the arguments I make, deep down I still believe they were taken too soon, that it was unfair and it shouldn’t have happened to them. What I no longer do is assign the negativity to it.

I’ve heard many people say when you are feeling down try to come up with reasons to feel happy. This didn’t work for me and it still doesn’t. I prefer this approach of attempting to debunk why I’m feeling miserable. If you struggle with writing it out, I’d recommend writing out your list of reasons when you’re feeling down then argue them when you’re feeling better. After you do it once, you are pretty much set, the list is always there to see. You can come back and look at it whenever you need. The reasons not to feel miserable will be right in front of your face.

Having trouble coming up with reasons why you shouldn’t feel bad? Try talking to a friend. When I tell a friend that I’m feeling miserable and they ask why, I’ll try to explain myself. I often find when trying to justify my mood it sounds silly. I’ll keep attempting to find a valid explanation but can never really come up with one because I see how trivial my problem is. If you can’t point it out, your friend probably will.

We have addressed our excuses for solving the large problem of being unhappy but now it’s time to put a microscope to the misery we’re feeling. Be as precise as possible as to why you’re hurting. This is key. In my case “Christmas is hard because I miss Hayley and nothing will ever be the same again”, or ”our family has been robbed of two members” wasn’t quite good enough. Eventually, I came up with this:

“Now that Hayley and Cayden are no longer with us, Christmas is extremely difficult. A lot of my enjoyment from Christmas came from nostalgia of Christmas as a child and all those memories are tied to Hayley. Now that Hayley is no longer here these moments are dead, they make me feel sad instead of joyful.”

Once you become aware of what’s causing you grief, it becomes much easier to treat.

In my case, the memories themselves were no different but I had changed how they made me feel. If how I felt changed once, it could change again. I began researching the Internet for “how to accept loss” but was frustrated with my findings. Most people said things like “see things for what they are,” “take things less personally,” “let go of the past,” etc. These are all great pieces of advice but how the fuck do I get to feel that way?

I found two techniques to be the most effective for accepting the situation:

  1. The Alien Technique

I like to pretend I’m an alien. You can pretend to be anyone unfamiliar with the situation but I always feel an alien is a safer bet. In case you were wondering, I pretend I’m green alien, not a white one. This alien’s job is to observe how I act and report on it to his alien friends. During Christmas, he would have probably said that I make myself feel miserable about happy memories and that I don’t try doing anything to make myself feel better.

This trick prevents me from getting too wrapped up in myself. Observing me from someone else’s shoes makes it easier to see how I thought I should act. I could think I wanted to get better all I want but if I didn’t start taking action, I wasn’t going to get anywhere.

This trick is useful for any pursuit. Say you wish to be a painter. Do your actions coincide with your desires? Would the alien tell his friends that you indeed are doing everything you can to become a painter? I have found no better way to mentally myself accountable for something.

  1. What Would Hayley Think?

While it can’t be used in as many situations as the alien technique, for me this one is far more powerful. In life, she would always find a way to cheer me or anyone else up. She would never want to see me beat myself up the way I had been. It’s my responsibility to take the pain and the injustice I feel and turn it into something positive, something she’d be proud of.

Every loss is an opportunity to strengthen yourself. Perhaps there’s someone you have lost in your life who meant a lot to you? Put yourself in their head, would they be proud of the way you’re acting? I was okay with letting myself down, but I didn’t want to let her down, that’s what ultimately led to me changing.

We can’t change things that have happened but we do have the power to shape how we let it affect us. We can choose to let it motivate and inspire us to be better or we can use it as an excuse to hold ourselves down. Turning your pain into inspiration is no easy task but I think it’s worth it. You have to believe that it is something you want, and something you can do. Then it’s just a matter of time until your brain starts shifting its way of thinking. The more you practice, the quicker it will happen.

Accepting a loss is one of the hardest things we have to do as humans. I’ve been in the same sort of place you are, though. I was a person who thought anything to do with thinking positive was a bunch of hippy B.S. I was a person who began to see the value in positive thinking but then got lost and frustrated trying to find my way there. Looking back, I can see that it was my brain that was standing in my way all along. The excuses I made wouldn’t be acceptable for someone else to have, but they were for me. That’s why these techniques of putting myself in someone else’s mind work for me and why I think they can work for you too.

Christmas is always going to be a challenging time of year now but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, I could use it as a chance to whine, gather sympathy and feel sorry for myself. Sometimes that’s what is easy. If I dig deeper, I can see that it’s not as bad as I make it seem sometimes. I still get to be surrounded by people I love and I won’t be the only one missing her, we all will. Instead of getting lost in myself, though, I’ll remember other people are struggling with it too and try to help. I’ll try to make it better instead of dwelling on how bad it is. I think that would make Hayley proud.

Five Day Fast: What I Learned By Not Eating For Five Days

The morning of November 11, I decided I wanted to try a fast. After eating supper at 5 pm that evening I never consumed anything but water until November 16, five days later.

If you’re like most people, who heard I was doing this you’re probably wondering why. I don’t have a great explanation.

That morning I drove to Tim Horton’s, walked in, waited in a line for five minutes and walked up to the till only to discover I had forgotten my wallet. Driving home, doomed to the fate of homemade coffee, I was listening to something about fasting leading to improved cognitive function. Maybe this would be worth trying? I soon discovered there are plenty other benefits of extended fasting.

Most of the benefits of fasting result from a process called autophagy. This process helps the body to destroy bad cell matter. In practical terms, autophagy prevents cancer development, increases lifespan, slows neurodegeneration and even leads to the production of new brain cells. Perhaps with these additional brain cells I would be coming home from Tim Horton’s with two coffees and a timbit for our dog instead of crazy ideas like not eating for five days.

Fasting causes your body to go into a state known as ketosis. This means that your brain is burning off fat to run because there is no glucose (created from carbohydrates) available. So yes, there is also a fat loss benefit. I had been interested in ketogenic diets lately, and this would make a good jumping off point for trying one. (Note: it usually only takes 1-3 days of fasting to get into ketosis, or it’s possible to attain it without fasting).

Fasting is also shown to improve our insulin sensitivity, making you more resilient when you consume junk food.

Ok, so there are probably some dangers that come with doing a fast of this length so maybe talk to a doctor or something if you are thinking of trying this. I was curious as to whether I would experience any of these benefits; I couldn’t imagine feeling great after not eating for more than a couple of days! But I did.

I can’t believe how good I felt on days four and five. It was the sharpest I’ve felt possibly ever. I was so focused. I would start doing something and time would just fly by as I accomplished the task. Tasks just flowed seamlessly into each other. The only downside to this is sometimes it was hard to start a task because my brain felt so focused on not doing anything.

Over the first few days I encountered a few negative effects:

– Minor headaches. I rarely got headaches. When I did, they lasted only five to ten minutes. I assume they were the result of dehydration.
– Dizziness. If I moved to fast, it felt like I might faint.
– When I walked too much, my legs were sore for the rest of the day.
– Colder. Our office is usually cool, but I felt colder than normal.

I imagine you have to pay attention to this stuff. If I had ended up fainting or had a headache that lasted more than a day, I probably would have interpreted it as my bodies way of telling me to stop and listened to it.

As you can imagine, social situations also got a little bit trickier.

– Saturday night we did dinner and a movie with my girlfriend and her family… I drank ice water at dinner and hot water at the movie.
– My work has too much free food. I had to pass up on a catered breakfast and lunch. As well as a fridge full of free food accessible just outside my office.

No coffee was hard at work. I like to be sipping on something while I work. Since I couldn’t drink coffee, and I was cold, my girlfriend suggested drinking hot water. This helped a lot. I stayed hydrated and warm! I’m still drinking hot water at work instead of coffee since I find I don’t need the caffeine; I just need something hot to drink.

My relationship with food changed. Before when I felt a craving for food I would usually give in. Now, I realize that most of the time food cravings and hunger are just internal voices that I don’t necessarily have to obey.

When I began the fast I was worried I would wither away into nothing. Ok, maybe not nothing, but I didn’t want to lose a lot of mass. When I began, I weighed 173 lbs, and when I finished, I had only dropped to 165 lbs. I lost most of the weight in the first three days. However, as I write this a few days later, I’m still at 167 lbs. So I would guess a lot of it was fat loss.

I ended my fast Monday evening, 121 hours after I began it. This brings up the topic of refeeding or reintroducing food to your body. If you aren’t careful, you could encounter something called refeeding syndrome where you spike your insulin so much that you go into shock and possibly die. So maybe save that tub of Oreo ice cream for another meal. My first meal was Athletic Greens and an avocado and mixed nuts then some asparagus. I avoided meat, but I don’t know if it was necessary. Any small piece of protein and a few vegetables and you’ll probably be fine. Probably best to avoid high carb foods (including fruit) because of their higher glycemic indexes.

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First meal in five days!

Honestly, I’m still blown away by how positive of an experience this was. The positives far outweighed the few downsides. I loved how sharp my mind was. I am more confident in my willpower, and it’s cool to think I did something that I had never done in my entire life. I plan on trying something like this again in a few months; maybe you’ll join me?

If you have any questions, you can always ask me via email or twitter or leave a comment below.

Us Vs. Them

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Before traveling through Vietnam with a group of friends, I was unaware that it was such a beautiful country. It had a little bit of everything; vast mountain ranges, lush green forests, and white sandy beaches. Sometimes when we drove we’d see the ocean on one side of the road, and tall, spanning mountains on the other. As we travelled south, specifically in Ho Chi Minh City, I began to notice a trend that saddened me. This trend was the number of amputees we saw. Every few minutes it seemed we would walk by someone who was missing at least one limb. That wasn’t the worst of it, though.

We were walking through an outdoor market one evening when we passed a couple pushing a stroller. Usually when someone sees a stroller, they look inside and comment on how cute the baby is. Right? Well, that’s what I did but what I saw wasn’t cute… Honestly, it only loosely resembled a human.

The child, or what I believe was a child (it may have been older) had the body of a typical two or three-year-old, but its head probably matched the length of its body and was about twice as wide. The face looked like it was carved out of wood. The best way I could describe it is like a character from The Hills Have Eyes, a film about a family who gets stranded and stalked by a group of psychopaths who were all deformed as a result of being on-site during nuclear experiments by the U.S. government. The child in the stroller, and many more people that we would see, looked like the deformed mountain dwellers from this movie. It was equal parts horrifying and heartbreaking to see.

In case you aren’t on top of your world history, the reason for most of these amputees and deformities was the Vietnam War. Without getting into too much detail, essentially for a decade, the United States used chemical weapons against the Vietnamese. The most notable of which was Agent Orange. The government of Vietnam claims that 4 million citizens were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suffered illnesses because of it; this includes children of people who were exposed. It blew my mind that people were still physically affected by actions that took place 40 years ago.

A lot of this information was on display in the War Remnants Museum that we visited. That museum exposed me to a lot of difficult topics that I had never really thought about before.

Outside there was a list of the torture techniques used by the South Vietnamese people on their prisoners. There were plenty of graphic images posted on the walls that illustrated the ugly, scary and morbid things people do to each other during times of war. The violence displayed in these images was more extreme than any movie I know. As I was walking around, I started realizing something, that looking back now, completely altered the way I see the world.

For the first time in my life, I was on the side of the racial minority. In this museum, that was displaying the atrocities inflicted on the Vietnamese people (mostly by the United States) I felt like I was being seen as one of the “bad guys.” Even though I’m Canadian, the anti-American sentiment in that museum rattled me. Despite being a good person, people were still going to associate me with evil. I felt hopeless.

It’s so easy when we talk about war, or any conflict, to make it an “us vs. them” discussion. We’re the good guys, and they’re the bad guys. We’re right, and they’re wrong. In thinking this way we naturally start to focus on our differences instead of our similarities. We almost immediately lose our compassion for the “them.” Instead of connecting with people, we drive them away. Instead of trying to discover why they think differently than us we condemn them. We forget that we are all human and that we are all trying our best with the tools we have. We become ignorant of other people’s suffering. Some people have been raised differently from us but if we attack them from a place of hate or disdain we aren’t going to solve anything. We just become another “them.” We have to be able to work together with those who might not share our beliefs.

Next time you’re in a disagreement, try to remember that they probably feel the same way about their opinion as you do about yours. You both are just trying to make your lives a little bit easier. Instead of trying to prove the other person wrong, try to find a solution that can benefit both of you. Us + Them = Us.

Every Election Ever…

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A brief summary of every Federal Election:

– Ads begin to run explaining how crappy every party is.
– We see these ads and begin to realize an election is coming and for the first time ever (or since the last one) we jump on the Internet and get “informed” (I know, the Internet wasn’t really a thing for the first 30 some elections so you can replace it with the word television or newspaper if you’d like).
– Somewhere between that and a few Google searches, we become an expert on all things political and choose which party we are aligned with (usually the one that posted the articles that made us experts).
– Armed with an arsenal of knowledge we look for unsuspecting victims to either dual or bash other political parties with. Bars are the most common battleground.
– The hunt continues up until the federal election.
– The election comes, we vote and then watch the results come in and make fun of any riding that votes against us.
– The results are revealed at which time the winning side revels in their victory while everyone else is preparing for the inevitable nuclear holocaust that must accompany their party not making it into power.
– A few days pass and we forget all about it until the next one.

How I Got The Idea For Remember The Good Times

The following is one of the many questions that I’ve answered on my Goodreads Author page. You can ask me anything there.

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

My most recent (okay, my only) book, Remember The Good Times, describes how I’m overcoming the murder of my cousin and her son by her husband who then took his own life also. Writing was my primary outlet after receiving the news of their passing. I would write until a point of mental exhaustion. I often felt hollow and emotionless afterwards, but I could get on with my day.

That same summer my two friends and I were going to backpack through Southeast Asia. I contemplated not going, but stuck to the plan. While we were there I was journaling obsessively in hopes that I would start a travel blog. I never did. However, I did decide I wasn’t going to let this tragedy in my life stop me, instead I would find a way to use it to motivate me to be a better person.

To that end, I was reading a lot of nonfiction books. Most of the “self-help” books I tried didn’t resonate with me though. They felt too preachy and impersonal. I eventually stumbled upon my journals that I wrote after the murder. The entries didn’t make a lot of sense in parts, but they were raw and real. They were more relatable for someone who was in pain. I wanted to write a book that describes what I found were the best techniques for overcoming a traumatic event, but instead of skirting around the dark emotional places I encountered along the way, I would embrace them. I hoped that doing so would build a sense of trust with the reader. That trust would give them the courage to try the techniques that I think can help someone to overcome any hardship.

Origin Story Pt. 2

Kia
Last year’s dog agility trials were nothing short of a nightmare for my girlfriend, Chantel. Her dog, Kia, basically failed to obey any of her commands. She was heartbroken. As I watched the events unfold that afternoon, I was interpreting them differently than everyone else. Instead of feelings of embarrassment, despair or shame that one may typically feel in such a situation, I was instead overcome with pride and inspiration. I knew at that moment that I was witnessing something special (I actually wrote about it here) and this past weekend I was proven right.

Now, a year later, Chantel and Kia stood at the start of the agility course again. Anxiety swirled in my stomach as I waited for their run to begin. I had witnessed first-hand how hard she was practicing and how badly she wanted to succeed. While Kia was now more than capable of doing runs such as this, I couldn’t help but be nervous. As their run began I felt like a parent watching their child batting with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning.

My nervousness was quickly replaced by elation. Kia was listening and they were going through the obstacles with relative ease. They finished second in the event, then third in another event the next day. Thinking about her in those runs fills me with an overwhelming sense of pride and happiness. It’s hard to think of a better kind of moment than watching someone you love, succeed at something that they love.

To most of the witnesses, it looked like just another great run. They didn’t know how hard it might have been for her to not give up after her previous try. They wouldn’t know how hard or how much she practiced. No, they wouldn’t think of any of these things. They would just think about the outcome, not the whole story leading up to it. As a society, we often judge an individual on the result of the single event, not on how they prepared for it. We don’t appreciate the time, effort, and achievement of just getting there. Becoming vulnerable in such a way is sometimes just as difficult as the thing you are doing.

When something doesn’t go the way we want it to, we always have two choices:
1. Quit
2. Persevere

When it’s hardest to persevere that’s usually when it’s most important to. It’s one thing to quit when it turns out you don’t really care about something. You tried it, it didn’t work, it’s not for you. However, when you fall in love with doing something and you are embarrassed in the big moment, that’s when you’re going to get rocked. Those shortcomings can eat away at you for months, maybe even years. It hurts so much because what you are doing is important to you. When you succeed those failures become a sense of pride. You can look back and see everything you had to overcome. It gives greater meaning to your success.

Unfortunately, you may never accomplish the goal you set out for yourself. There are so many external factors outside of your control that it’s improbable that everything will align for you. That’s why you should focus on the love of doing something and not so much where you want it to take you. Reduce the importance of the big event and increase the importance of being able to do what you love every day. That’s what really matters.

Breakfast PITAS: How To Do Things You Love At 5 In The Morning

  
Do you want more time for doing things you love? If so, you aren’t alone. I’ve been struggling to accomplish all the things that I’d like to do every day since picking up a full-time job. To make matters worse, my brain is often tired after getting home from work and I’ll often have errands to run. I decided finding time before work to work on side projects (such as writing this post) would be more effective than hoping to have a chance after work. I became a morning person shortly after my teenage years ended. My family on my dad’s side is filled with morning people so it fills me with a sense of pride to be like them. However, in order to get ample time to work on stuff I thought I’d wake up at a time that challenges even myself. It was tricky at the start, but I found a few tricks along the way and now have a pretty consistent morning routine.

My current morning routine looks something like this:

– Wake up at 4:57 am
– Turn on the coffee maker
– Cold shower while turkey bacon is microwaving
– Listen to audiobook and cook eggs
– Eat breakfast
– Read until 6:00 am
– Create (by writing, programming, etc.) until 7:30 am
– Clean up and off to work

This routine has been in place for a couple of months now. In establishing it, I’ve discovered a few tricks that make it easier. If the idea of waking up earlier doesn’t make you cringe. Here are the keys to making it work:

I apologize if you read this far in hopes that I’d be talking about eating pita’s, it’s just an acronym.

If you want to wake up earlier, just remember Breakfast PITAS:

Breakfast
So… I decided the morning of publishing this that breakfast is probably worth pointing out. Luckily my acronym was pitas and it sort of fits in. I credit making breakfast with helping in the wake-up process. Eat a high protein breakfast (ie. eggs, turkey bacon, etc.) not a carb heavy one to avoid feeling lethargic all day. If this doesn’t sound like your thing just drink tea or coffee instead.

Preparation
Prepare as much as you can for the morning before going to bed. This allows you to have more time. For me this includes, getting the coffee maker ready so I can just push start, and getting my turkey bacon on a plate with a paper towel so I can just throw it in the microwave.

Ice shower
Ok, technically it’s just a cold shower but I needed a vowel to make an acronym. You can start with quicker showers (30 seconds to a minute) and try to make them longer each time. I usually stand in there for 4-5 minutes. I focus the water on my body in the following order: chest, then my face/head, then the back of neck (this is the wake-up spot!)

Task
Know what you plan on doing in the morning. Have one focal task that you can look forward to doing otherwise you aren’t going to get up for it or you’ll fall back asleep doing it. If it isn’t something you love doing, you’re probably better off getting extra sleep.

Alarms
Yes, it’s plural. This helps out a lot when you are starting out. Keep one by your bed and another that you have to get out of bed to reach. Set the alarm that’s out of your reach to be two minutes after the first. I keep the second one in my bedroom that way if I don’t get up to turn it off it will annoy my girlfriend and then I’ll really be in trouble!

Sleep
Go to bed NO LATER than six hours before when you want to wake up (ideally you probably want 8-9). In my experience, not getting at least six hours of sleep will in some way decrease the quality of my waking hours.

Wow. Breakfast PITAS. That might be the worst acronym ever created. All joking aside, I do believe doing these things will make your mornings more enjoyable and productive. If you’ve always wanted to be but were never able to become a morning person, hopefully, Breakfast PITAS can give you a fighting chance.

I didn’t know where to put it but listening to awesome music in the morning will help too.

Do you use any tricks to wake up earlier? I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments below.

How To Finish 4+ Books Per Month (Even if You’re Busy!)

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I’ve been keeping busy since I started working full time in June. A typical weekday includes 9 hours at the office, 1 hour at the gym (well, not as much lately), and usually a couple of evenings for social or sporting events. This doesn’t leave me with a lot of free time. Despite the absence of time I’m going through books faster than ever. In the last three months I’ve finished:

When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler
The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
Armada by Ernest Cline
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
You by Austin Grossman
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Free Will by Sam Harris
The End of Faith by Sam Harris
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

I could ramble on forever about how much better my life is because of reading but I’ll save that for another time. Instead, I want to quickly share what I do to get through so many books. Maybe you can try it too.

How I’ve gone from consuming 1 to 4+ books per month:

Listen to audiobooks

Listening to audiobooks is how I finish roughly 75% of my books nowadays. This is because I can listen to them while doing other things. Cooking, cleaning, and exercising become opportunities to hear more books. I’ll do most of my listening at 1.5x speed on my bicycle ride to and from work:

20 minutes each way x 2 = 40 minutes of listening x 1.5 = 60 minutes of listening time

Let’s say on average most books are about 12 hours long. If this was my only reading time in a day I’d still get through about two books per month. After three months that’s as many books as the average American reads in a year!

I use Audible to purchase and listen to audiobooks. They’re an Amazon company so they can offer cool features like the ability to keep your audiobooks in sync with your Kindle books. I can get off my bike then open my Kindle and it loads where I finished listening. If you don’t have an Audible account go should sign up now. They’ll even give you a free book!

Practice reading faster

When you don’t have a lot of time to read you have to make the most of it. Learning to read faster doesn’t mean you are going to comprehend less, it means you simply read faster. I don’t put as much time into this as I should but I’ve done the following technique a few times. The first time I did this 20 minute exercise I found myself reading nearly twice as fast!

The exercise can be found here: Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes (Note: Yes, I sucked and did not improve 300%!)

If you’re too lazy for that simply start reading by moving a pen along the lines of the book, using your non-dominant hand, as you read. It will eliminate a lot of your inefficiencies.

Carve out at least 15 minutes in your day to read

Personally, I read after breakfast. I’ll share how I get up three hours before work another day. Sometimes I’ll read for 10 minutes and sometimes it’ll be an hour, but it will always be something.

Maintain a list of books you’d like to read

This is so I never find myself in a situation where I’m too lazy to find a book to read. I guess it gives me something to look forward to as well. You can check out mine at GoodReads!

To summarize; listen to audiobooks, practice reading faster, carve out a time for it, and maintain a to-read list. Hopefully some of these techniques can fit into your routine. If you want more details or have any suggestions be sure to leave a comment.