Thursday, November 24, 2011

The No New Gifts Holiday ~ By Leo Babauta

[Post written by Leo Babauta.] 

Are you ready to participate in the mad shopping frenzy that we partake in every year, not only on Black Friday but all holiday season long?
 Are you ready for an incredible burst of spending, for racking up credit card debt, for the stress of buying things for everyone on your list?
Are you ready to consume an insane amount of resources, to have a huge impact on the environment, to work long hours to pay for all that?

Yep, it’s the holiday season again, and with it comes the worst season for consumerism ever.

I say, let’s opt out. My family and I are issuing a challenge to all my wonderful readers, to the world:
The No New Gifts Holiday Challenge.

What is this crazy challenge?
It’s simple — follow this rule:
        Buy no new gifts during the holidays.

Wait, whaaat?
Don’t fret, there are alternatives:
- Make gifts, like crafts or construction type gifts.
- Bake or cook consumable gifts like cookies.
- Give the gift of your service — wash cars, give a massage, babysit, clean a house, mow lawns, etc.
- Buy used gifts at thrift stores.
- Donate to charity, as a group.
- Volunteer at a charity together.
- Have a shared experience together.
- Create something, together, instead of consuming.
- Give to others things you don’t need (a good sewing machine, etc.).
- Find gratitude for what we already have.

Are you in?...
Take the challenge!
It’ll be fun, you’ll save a ton of money, and your family will get creative. Read on.

The Tradition of Traditions
Many people will scoff, and say they love giving gifts. It’s a tradition, after all! Well, sure. But new traditions can be made if the old ones aren’t working out. And I’d argue the tradition of buying gifts is broken. [Read: The Case Against Buying Gifts.]

Do we really want to teach our children that giving is really all about buying?
Do we want to teach them that to show love, you must buy something?
Do we want to set an example of consumerism instead of creativity?
Are we saying that the only way a family or friends can get together is if we spend a crapload of needless money?

 No. Let’s be more creative. Let’s create new traditions.
What kind of traditions? 
What if families got together and played games? Built things? Went outdoors to hike, play games, swim, play in the snow, camp out? What if families taught each other how to make things? What if families got together to help others? Volunteer at a soup kitchen, help others build houses, clean up a neighborhood? Show that giving can be amazing, but it doesn’t have to involve consumerism.

Get creative. Get healthy. Get constructive. Get compassionate.

 But the sales!...All the money I’ll save!
 I think you know this already, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that when you shop during a sale, you aren’t saving money. You are spending it. The best way to save money is by not buying at all. Sure, there are some necessities that we need, but holiday sales are not about necessities. They’re about convincing you that all these TVs, iPads, Kindle Fires, iPods, video game systems, clothes, power tools and more are necessities. You can’t escape buying all this stuff, because it’s Christmas dammit!
So come down and save some money, and sign up for store credit while you’re at it.
When retailers offer you a major sale, this is a good time to run in the other direction. They’re trying to trick you into buying something you don’t need. When you see an advertisement for something, anything, it’s a good time to shut off whatever you’re watching, or go to another website. You don’t need it. Opt out of Black Friday, at the very least. (We’ll talk about next year later.)

But … my family won’t! 
First, your whole family doesn’t have to do this. Just you. You’ll be an oddball, and some people won’t understand, but you’ll be leading by example. Send them a link to this post, and tell them Leo made you do it. Just because everyone else is doing massive consumerism, doesn’t mean you have to.
Second, don’t be fatalist. Your family might be willing to change, if you at least start the discussion. Again, send a link to this post. Ask them what they think. Challenge them to get creative. This could save your family thousands of dollars, and be incredibly gratifying in the process. Instead of spending hours of shopping apart from each other, you could be spending hours together, doing things. Celebrate the holidays simply. Talk about the benefits of changing, and the problems with the way things have been done. These holidays weren’t always about massive shopping.
What did people do before department stores and malls and online retailers? How did they ever survive?Let’s try to remember.

Dealing with Difficult People 
Some friends or family members absolutely won’t join you. That’s OK. You don’t need to force this on anyone. Remember that everyone will change at their own pace, and not everyone will embrace changes like this. They’ll feel threatened, or criticized. You need to try not to come off as critical of others, but more positive. Tell them that they are not required to join you, but that you want to do this for your own sanity. You are trying to save money, but mostly you want to move away from consumerism. Ask only that they respect this. Others might insist on getting you presents. Politely ask that they don’t, but if they do, don’t be ungrateful. It can be awkward — for years I’ve asked family not to buy me presents, only to have some of them buy me stuff anyway. I don’t buy them anything, so it’s weird. But these days I just smile, and say thank you, and appreciate the effort. It’s a long education process, trust me. In the meantime, you can still suggest starting other traditions, like playing games or going outside or volunteering. Be patient. Others don’t like to be forced into change, so just be the change you want to see in the world.

Cliff's Note:
I love Leo's take on this, and I will be doing a variation on the 'No New Gifts Holiday' this year. The reality is that Christmas should be about giving and receiving love, not things. I don't have any issue with fact i love giving them and receiving them...but my major issue is with all the waste! 
Making things, giving the gift of service and donations to charity are a better way to go in my humble opinion than simply buying something for someone out of obligation. 
If you know that someone really wants...or more importantly needs something then sure - it's a great gift but buying something that ends up collecting dust is just a waste. 
I think that many people only really give on Christmas and Birthdays. I'd rather create a culture of giving and we can still set aside the time to be with our family and loved ones at Christmas. 
It's one reason that when I was living in Canada my favourite holiday was Thanks Giving. It was simply a time to sit, eat, drink and be merry with those that you love. Almost like Christmas without the materialism and stress!

Leo's e-books, and my own books are available at

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do One Thing at a Time (AKA Multi-Tasking Sucks!)

Many have the mistaken idea that (trying to) do more than one thing at a time is an effective way to increase efficiency. But all it serves to do is distract our attention, and we cannot do any of the tasks with any great precision.
We end up doing things in a haphazard and sub-standard manner, or taking more overall time to complete the tasks.
 Having a single focus at any one time is a great way to preserve that attention to detail that allows us to do exemplary work... and it's also a great exercise in mindfulness...
One of my favourite mindfulness reminders is to ask "What am I doing now?" and then to simply do that one thing, whatever it is, to completion, and with complete attention.
It's a great way to bring joy to mundane activities and attention to the things that really matter.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Simple Tips for a Better Night's Sleep

A client and I were speaking about his poor sleep quality, a problem that I help many, many people work through. As I was outlining some suggestions I realised that I had never written a blog post on this topic!

...and so here it is - Cliffdog's guide to getting a better sleep!

Why is sleep so important?

It’s probably fair to say that most of you reading this don’t get enough sleep.
In fact since 1910 the average amount of sleep we get per night has fallen from an average of 9 hours to 7.5 hours.
Most of the people I see in my naturopathic practice initially have either; trouble getting to sleep, poor sleep quality or they wake up feeling like crap!

But the fact that sleep rates have fallen doesn't necessarily mean we aren’t getting enough sleep, and the amounts we need vary widely from person to person.
Some people function perfectly well on as little as 3-4 hours sleep per night. Most of us however need a lot more than this.
The recommended amounts of sleep for various ages are:
Zero to 24 months: Thirteen to seventeen hours.
Two years +: Nine to thirteen hours.
Ten years +: Ten to eleven hours.
Sixteen to 65 years: Six to nine hours.
Over 65 years: Six to eight hours.

So most of us should really be shooting for at least six hours of sleep per night.
If we exercise or are highly active in our work, or in a high stress environment our needs may be greater and elite college athletes have shown a positiuve correlation between performance and increased sleep hours (to 9 hours) even when those were not continuous (in other words they used napping to get to 9 hours per day.)

What happens if we don’t get enough sleep?
At it’s most extreme sleep deprivation is fatal! Lab rats when denied sleep completely, die within two to three weeks. The brain’s ability to function deteriorates markedly as a consequence of too little sleep. Speech may slur, cognition decreases and thought patterning becomes more rigid. It’s like the brain without adequate rest goes into ‘auto-pilot’ mode and has much more trouble being creative, problem solving or troubleshooting.
Emotional disturbances result from sleep deprivation too. The transient anxiety and irritability we all feel from the odd late night can develop into more serious anxiety and depressive disorders with prolonged sleep deprivation.
Physical performance also drops in response to inadequate sleep. Endurance and strength levels begin to drop, ocular function deteriorates, fine motor control and co-ordination deteriorate and glucose metabolism is less efficient (not good if you want to get and stay lean!).
In fact a study in the British Journal of Occupational and Environmental medicine showed that driving after less than six hours sleep was more dangerous than driving over the legal breath alcohol limit!

Some of the more common reasons for lack of sleep and sleep quality are shift work, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, diet and emotional stress.
Luckily these are all things that we can begin to deal with.

Shift work is something that is a fact of life for most people, but sticking with regular sleeping hours (at least 6 and optimally 8-9) and times will help to reset the bodies internal clock (even on days off when we try to ‘catch up’ on sleep. It’s a better idea to still try to keep with the same pattern.)

10 Simple Steps to a better sleep:

1. Ask yourself: "Why am I having trouble sleeping?" (AKA 'How is this serving me?')

Rather than just launching into 'treatments' for insomnia, we are much better served by looking at the reasons why we don't sleep well.
Usually we have things on our minds and often these are coming from work, relationships or other 'stressors'. The important thing to note is that it is not the stressor that stresses us out! It is our relationship to it. If we simply remove the stressor we will soon find another situation arises that provides stress for the same underlying reason. Usually our stress driven relationship with these situations results from aspects of security, self worth, loss or attachment. Consulting a practitioner who can help release self limiting beliefs and behaviours (such as yours truly!) can help ensure a great night sleep.

2. Create a ritual

Sometimes we simply continue in a 'work-day' mindset even when we are at home. We haven't really 'disengaged' from our day and provided a signal to our body-mind complex to go into relaxation mode.
Creating a ritual helps to do this. It is a somatic and psychological signal that it is now time to stop thinking and worrying about the concerns of the day and instead to put them aside and focus on recovery and relaxation.
This is one of the reasons I often counsel my clients to do a short meditation when they first get home. It provides a 'bookmark' to the day and can really help to settle into a much more relaxed state. Other great rituals include: breathing exercises, yoga, whole brain exercises, and one of my favourites - making a cup of relaxing herbal tea. (Peppermint, chamomile, valerian, passionflower and skullcap are all relaxing herbs - check with your Naturopath or Medical Herbalist to see what is best for you.)

3. Turn the damn TV off and don't stay on the computer too late!

Our daily rhythms are heavily affected by light intensity. In a natural state as light intensity drops (as the sun goes down) we begin to change our balance of hormonal biochemistry in favour of the relaxing and sleep inducing hormones rather than the diurnal stimulatory hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine.
TV and computer screens emit a high light intensity that can practically fool the brain/body into awakening! The heavily stimulatory themes on many TV shows add to this effect.
I have seen profound results with clients sleep quality when they stop watching TV before 9pm and remove the television from the bed room! 
(Note: The bedroom should be a place for sleeping, reading. relaxing and having sex only!)

4. Read some fiction

Reading fiction seems to do just the trick for relaxing the mind and helping sleep. While non-fiction can cause us to plan and begin to project into the future - driving a moderate stress (fight or flight) response. Fiction seems to do the opposite. Heavily violent or disturbing themes may do the opposite though so be aware of what works best for you.

5. Have a bath

A warm bath or shower is relaxing in and of itself, but the primary sleep benefit of taking a bath or shower before bed is the drop in temperature that occurs afterwards. This drop in temperature is both associated with and causative of sleep. Of course you can get fancy and add some relaxing essential oils, put on some Barry Manilow or whatever else floats your boat. (Hey whatever you do in your bath is your own business!)

6. Meditate

The mind's constant buzzing and whirring is the biggest obstacle to sleep, so many people attempt to try in vain to 'switch the mind off'. This is an exercise in futility..and in my opinion a devaluing of the wonderful properties of the mind! But we can simply let the thoughts be, and not either: try to repress them, or get carried away with them. Either of which provides energy to the thoughts and prevents us from sleeping. Using mindful, contemplative exercises like a breathing meditation can allow the mind to become more still, more calm and we can simply let the thoughts arise and fall without attachment. (For tips on meditation see: Time Rich Cash Optional: an unconventional guide to happiness)

7. Don't take your work home

Leave your work at the office. If you bring it home there is even more of an imperative to resume unfinished tasks, and even the mere sight of it can drive subconscious processes associated with adrenal stress response. By leaving it at the office you have both 'out of sight, out of mind' and you have created a clear delineation between work time-space and home time-space.

Try some gentle herbs and supplements
The herbs already suggested can be gentle aids to a better sleep. Other nutritional supplements (especially magnesium and melatonin) may also be useful for many people. Again I always suggest that you see a Clinical Nutritionist or Naturopath for advice on what would work best for you.

8. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed

This is a complete no-brainer! Caffeine is obviously a stimulant, and even if you don't think that late cup o' Joe is affecting your ability to sleep or quality of sleep it is probably providing a more restless slumber. Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed (and many of my clients report that at least 9 hours is best.)
Alcohol also affects quality of sleep. Although we may be able to get to sleep easily as a result of a wee tipple we are less able to enter the deepest states of sleep. I know that if I have a few wines my sleep will be less effective and more restless...but sometimes there are beautiful women needing to be regaled over a fine glass of Mendoza Malbec...but you play the game and pay the price (gladly some times!)

9. Watch out for those Meds!
Remember many medications can interfere with sleep patterns including asthma relief medications (as they are stimulatory to the CNS), pseudoephedrine containing cough and cold remedies and antidepressants. If you think your medications may be affecting your sleep talk with your health provider about ways to limit the effect they may be having (but try to avoid sleeping pills, they don’t give a good quality of sleep and may develop dependency.)

10. Don't eat too much before bed

Eating too much can simply upset digestive processes. This is very individual and context dependent but I like to avoid food for about 3 hours before bed. Having a high sugar/high GI-II carbohydrate meal can also sabotage sleep due to the effect of the blood glucose spike and converse crash.

If you are having trouble sleeping and feel that stress and other life issues may be playing a role drop me a line for an appointment ( or check out some of the life strategies in Choosing You! and  Time Rich Cash Optional: an unconventional guide to happiness

~ Cliff

Thursday, November 03, 2011

F&*K Fabric Softener [a rant...]

I was watching TV (something I only rarely do) with my sister - and an advertisement for fabric softener came on.
It got me to thinking about how on earth we got to a point where we have innumerable choices in fabric softener and that something so banal can be part of the way that we define ourselves.
Think about it....if you actually care about what fabric softener you use, and if you have a favourite brand you are in some way defining yourself by that. You have become in part defined by what brand of fabric softener you use. Wow.
I could state the obvious that there is so much more to life than fabric softener, or that (cliche as it is) there are children dying in Africa. But it's even more than that...IT'S F%^KEN FABRIC SOFTENER!

"Really..." I said to my sis "how fucked up has this world become that anyone would even give a shit what fabric softener they use? It's fabric softener for God's sake!"

I have never used fabric softener (could you guess?)
And while I get that your favourite brand may a) smell nice and b) make your shirt oh so divine to wear - the advertisements are not even about even that anymore.
They are about beautiful people jumping around like commitable lunatics, altogether with any combination of cartoon flowers/animals, babies and other wonderful things...
I guess if I lived in CandyLand instead of Auckland's North Shore it might be a little more relevant to me...but seriously; F'n Fabric Softener?

I wonder what fabric softener defines me? Excuse me while I go and contemplate that while standing on the railing of a very high bridge....

[feel free to replace 'Fabric Softener' in this post with almost any modern consumer item ;) ]


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Productivity NEVER Outweighs Humanity

An oft heard argument for continuing with many abhorrent practices, particularly in the field of agriculture, is that to change will decrease productivity and efficiency (and that this will increase the cost of products to the end user.)
This misses the vital and immutable point that productivity NEVER outweighs humanity.
There is a point that comes when the right thing to do simply must be done, irrespective of any reduction in efficiency or increasing in prices.

The same argument was used by slave owners in the American South as a justification for slavery. Of course we now (almost) universally accept that any production and cost benefits of keeping slaves can not even be considered in any sense to be 'worth it'.

I contend that the same is true of practices such as factory farming of beef, crating of sows and battery farming of eggs.
Cost can never be solely measured in dollar terms. Basic, fundamental humanity and compassion, and social and environmental costs are not even 'as' important...but exponentially more so.

The right thing to do is simply the right thing to do, irrespective of production, efficiency and monetary cost.