Posts in health
It''s Never Too Late, Trust Me
Estimated reading time: 1'30

Estimated reading time: 1'30

I met Liaf while waiting in line at a bakery in Stockholm, Sweden. He advised me which cake to take (you know how french people can be fussy about their desserts!).

"- My name is Liaf, it is a Norwegian viking name , it means "son of the lion" in Arabic. 

I used to be involved in Journalism, traveling the world (incl. the USA, Portugal, Tanzania, Cap Verde...) and meeting some of the most influential people in the political and entertainment scene, particularly in the States. At some point, I was approached by the CIA to become an agent, but I refused.

- Cool, I am also in the journalistic field, I said.

- Do you want to become the next Brandon Stanton?

- No, I want to be the first Helene Clabecq. 

- Trust me, it's never too late to start. 

I've had a rich life full of adventure, but at 69 years-old, I got a stroke and had a choice to make: either be old and scared, or do something about my mental and physical health. 

Obviously, I wasn't gonna let myself die. At the time, my daughter was taking a degree as a Pedagogue, and since the teacher seemed to push all the work and supervision to parents, I decided that I might as well study for that diploma too. I got it at age 72, aside to studying gender equity. Shortly after, I started a travel agency for seniors, and took 2500 of them to Portugal".

I expressed my awe.

"69 is the middle of life, it's nothing impressive! You need to take care of your "cabeza*" or you will slowly die"

This discussion reminded me that we are the ones setting limits to ourselves. Not only it is never too late to reach for our goals, but most of the so-called obstacles that we think stop us, are just excuses we give ourselves.

The sky is the limit.

_______

* "Head" in Spanish

Do you set limits to yourself? Which one(s) are you going to get rid of today?
Life is a Game
Estimated reading time: 9'

Estimated reading time: 9'

If I had to choose a person in my entourage whose path has impressed me the most, I'd pick Hanine.

Hanine, the guy who, in less than two years...

- Participated in TEDx and other conferences in front of thousands people, but who used to shake in front of his sheet of paper at the board at Uni,

- Trains 3-5x a week and ran a marathon in 4 hours, when he did not understand the point of playing sports a year and a half ago,

- Can go out alone at night and head home with 10 new numbers saved in his phone and make girls fall under his spell with the right one-liners, while upon his first attempts, he was unable to string two words together to a stranger,

This is the guy for whom everything is possible, provided that you see life as a game, don't take things seriously and go full speed.

How did he start his transformation? I asked him directly when I came back to Lille, France, for the holidays.

 

"I did a lot of work on myself when I originally moved from Morocco to France, and I've been a personal-development enthusiast ever since I was 18. I was reading all the books and watching all the videos and documentaries I had at hand.

I wanted to improve my social skills, my EQ and gain self-confidence. I prepared myself before going out for example... The first hits gave me more confidence and it became easier and easier.

Maybe you can now picture me as an extravert or a ladies man, but it has not always been this way :)

The learning process was complex because every time I was working on my social skills, it did not work out in the long run: I was completely dependent on my mood swings. If I had the chance to wake up fresh and energetic, I would work on myself and push myself. On the other hand, if I felt lazy or tired, I would not get anything done.

My energy level was key.

One day, I read one of Tony Robbins books explaining how nutrition can impact your energy levels. It was new for me as I'd only associate healthy food with "weight loss" or "muscle gain", and never thought that it could impact my mental abilities.

At the time I was eating a lot of industrial food. I started each day with 4 or 5 chocolate buns and a soda. Then I'd swallow 5 or 6 coffee cups and vitamin C tablets throughout the day, to try and get those energy levels up... I was looking for supplements to be energetic, without realizing that I was fueling myself with the wrong gas from the start.

That's when I decided to give it a shot and stop eating sugar for a month. No need to take it to the extreme, just one month, to see how it would go.

On the 3rd week, I started to practice sports more intensely. On the 4th week, I started to meditate & stopped watching news.

If I'd describe my life before, I'd go to work, come home, watch a movie and order pizza. On the weekend, I'd get hammered and spend days recovering. If I was depressed during winter, the problem was not just the lack of light, it was also my physiological state. And if I could strengthen it with the proper food, rest and workout, I wouldn't be as impacted by external factors. All of a sudden, after I stopped sugar, I would come home and want to do more meaningful activities.

When I took sugar for the first time again (and I still do, exceptionally), I noticed the switch in my energy and it confirmed that it was the trigger. It gives me a brief peak of energy that then falls back and makes me even more tired during the digestive process.

Think about it.

If I prevent you from sleeping and eating for two days, and I make you watch a masterpiece, say your favorite movie. Are you going to enjoy watching it?

No. Because you aren't physiologically healthy. It's like swimming against the tide.

That's how my 365 days challenge started.

Every day, I'd wake up and think: "what can I do with this excess of energy?"

It wasn't a boost like after a coffee cup, it was a continuous and stable level of energy.

I started googling activities: dance classes, exhibitions, guitar lessons... & eventually gave myself the challenge of doing a new activity each day for a year, and started blogging about it.

People tend to think that the lack of time is the issue. It's not.

I used to waste 25 hours per week watching TV. "I don't have the time" literally means "I don't have the energy". That's the difference between those who have time for their career, friends and family and can be awake for 18 hours, and those who feel like zombies.

If you want to change your situation, see life as a game.

Somebody is likely to have had the same problems as you, so you can look it up. For example, at work: how can you sign more deals? How can you negotiate a raise? Change your perspective and see those obstacles that used to bring you down as fun challenges... That's how I tripled my salary in a year.

In my opinion, the fear of failure is also a fear of losing energy, and it goes back to the basics. You are worried of losing energy if you don't have an unlimited amount of it.

When I look back, I was the first one of my classmates to get an permanent working contract, paid twice the minimal salary, despite being an "immigrant", while others were simply looking for a fixed-term contract, remunerated the bare minimum. It happened because I knew that if I did not find anything, I'd have to leave the country, so I became more creative and staked it all. I accepted rejections and analyzed them to get better. In fact, winning 10% of the time is a huge statistic.

Friends I used to hang out with would say "look at X, he has a Master's degree and is a cashier, I'll never find a rewarding job either..." Those people did not even try and ended up like that too. I did not believe that I was better than anyone else, but I was thinking "they might be right, but I am the producer of my own life". If I got rejected at an interview or with a girl, I'd think "let's rework this and that". I never question myself for who I was and thought "they rejected be because I am Arabic". If you have a limited belief system, you'll limit yourself.

Self-knowledge is probably the best starting point if you want to make changes in your lifestyle.

I see myself as a train that stops at different stations. For instance, if the girl I am attracted to steps on the train, she is the right person for me and this is the right timing, is not, she simply is not and I let go of her, I am not an Uber, i’m not changing my destination, I keep driving until the next station.

The second most difficult part of personal development is acting out. People love to read tips and imagine how their life could be, but once they put their book down, nothing major happens and life goes on at the same pace. I personally have to display originality and creativity on a daily basis, hack my brain so to speak, to be able to take action.

When aiming for personal goals, we usually have plenty of intrinsic motivations, but not enough extrinsic ones that are stimulating (for instance, a boss that will fire you if you do not show up in the morning, competition with your colleagues). So one way to make the process fun  and random is to introduce hazard. At some point of my 365 days-challenge, I put a bunch of ideas in a box and would pick a "mission" to fulfill randomly in the morning. I literally felt like a kid on Christmas Eve!

Also, make sure to have fun. You'll spend more time "on the road", going from point A to B. As long as you have fun on the way, you can go very far, you won't stop at difficulties because you won't be only attached to results. This is what makes the difference between people who give up and those who keep it up.

Finally, prepare for the times you'll be less motivated. I call the doubtful side of me the "little Hanine", and the bolder version of me the "big Hanine"! For example, if I want to wake up early in the morning to work out, I'll prepare my outfit by the bed, socks included, as if I were to prepare items for a four years old. I'll also place my alarm downstairs (I live in a duplex), in case I lose my motivation when 6 AM strikes. Once awake, I'll put my clothes on without even thinking. If you start thinking, that's when you weaken and think: "it's fine, I can miss the gym one time, I'll go tomorrow". 

There's also people who are going to doubt you, or situations that will make you feel like giving up. One thing that boosts me is reading biographies of people I admire, and get inspired by the way they've handled challenges. A good example is Elon Musk, who had to figure out how to pay his employees, in millions of dollars, kept going when everybody thought that he was insane...

I keep on challenging myself every day and am working on an app* to help others do the same, because I truly believe that once you understand how the brain works and start seeing life as a game, anything is possible".

I love the idea of getting outside of our comfort zone to reach our goals. And when looking at Hanine's example, I've understood that it only takes a small step. Wether it is stopping sugar for a month, going to the opera for the first time or saying hello to a stranger, this creates new patterns in our brain that allow us to test new things and get excited rather than scared, and grow. I've actually tattooed a butterfly wing on my wrist that symbolizes just that - the butterfly effect.

Each small step you take may seem insignificant, but it brings you closer to your goals and to a better version of yourself, one wing flap at a time.

There's a quote saying "losers have an objective, winners have systems"... Here are some tips for getting outside of your Comfort Zone successfully:

- Audit your life and find ways to improve your energy levels

- Know yourself

- See life as a game

- Start easy and gradually increase the difficulty

- Act out by implementing various motivational techniques (extrinsic motivators, hazard, planning ahead for weak moments)

- Have fun on the way!

___

*N.B. an app that helps people get outside their comfort zones by sending them daily challenges.

Hanine's blog -> bit.ly/GoodbyeComfortZone

Which challenge are you going to take today to get outside of your comfort zone?
Get Help From Your Friends
Estimated reading time: 2'

Estimated reading time: 2'

Conversation with one of my colleagues on his most memorable turning point.

“At college, for 180 days straight, I got drunk, smoke a lot of weed and took pills.  Once, I did something really bad that could have led me both dismissed from school and go to prison.

The counsellor gave two choices, either I’d go to AA meetings every week and report on what I’d learnt, or he would report me to the university and the police for what I did.

I took the first option. Once there, I met this guy from AA who told me:

“Look, man, you think this is funny, you think you’re tough? You think this isn’t the problem?

You’ve been doing this for 180 days, I’ve been struggling with this for 30 years.

Do you want to wake up at 9.20 when you have a job, you’re drunk, you don’t know where you are, you can’t find your shoes and you have to get a cab to get to work? You go to a good school with a very difficult major and you seem like a smart kid, so I want you to go home today and I want you to look in the mirror tonight and think:

“Do I want to do this for the rest of my life? Do I want the first thought in my head when I wake up to be “I need a drink”?"

Right now you’re at school, but one day you’ll have a kid and a wife. I missed the birth of my daughter because I was in a drunk holding cell. I wasn't there for her, is that what you want? I missed my father’s funeral because I was at the bar.

My first answer was “Look man, that’s your problem”.

He said “for 30 years, every decision in my life was influenced by alcohol, and I don’t want that to be you.

You think you have the whole world under your feet but you’re right on the verge of losing everything in front of your eyes".

So I listened.

When I got home, I got rid of all the bottles and asked my roommates to hold me accountable.

If there were parties, they’d tell me to go upstairs. 2-3 days in, I was sweating, I felt horrible.

After 2 weeks, I went out, planning on only getting one drink.

After the first drink, my friends took my credit card, and if a girl would offer me a drink, they’d slap it out of my hand. Or they’d smell my glass to check whether I was having water or vodka. It eventually got to the point when I’d go out and only want to have soft drinks and slowly grow out of it. This dude's sentence still sticks with me.”

Can You Feel the Sun on Your Skin?
Estimated reading time: 1'

Estimated reading time: 1'

It was a Thursday afternoon. As I was waiting impatiently for the bus, I noticed a man next to me, holding a white cane. He was standing dangerously close to the road, though surprisingly relaxed, smiling. We stroke a conversation about the bus being late as usual.

Out of curiosity, I asked him if he had always been blind. He hadn’t. He was a veteran who got assaulted on his way home late at night many years back, in that same neighborhood of San Francisco.

A punch on the head had left him blind, “all this for 20 dollars in my pocket!”, he shot.

He had to learn patiently the way between his home and the food store, the only route he could take alone, counting each step. He wanted to learn to use a phone. His earplugs had gotten stolen in front of him, and people tricked him regularly, taking advantage of his handicap.

But he was not sour and had found ways to enjoy life despite the terrible consequences of that one night. 

“That’s life”, he concluded.

He had no anger, no need for victimisation. He was genuinely happy, enjoying the little moments, like this conversation with me, and the sensation of the sun on his skin.

Food for thought for someone who was anxious over a late bus, five minutes earlier.