This gym is a reason to climb in the Westchester and Stamford, CT area. If you were ever considering climbing, this gym is why you actually should. The Cliffs at Valhalla.

Cliffs at Valhalla

* It’s NEW!!! So great – everything is clean. The holds that you use to hold onto while you’re climbing are not chalked up – you can still feel their ridges.
* It’s safe. Mike the owner has done a great job of making sure the folks that work there know what they’re doing in climbing, and they won’t do what they don’t know very well. The mats on the floor for regular climbing are great. It’s not too cold or too warm.
* It’s thorough – there are two elliptical machines upstairs and one rowing machine for warming up; there’s a shorter wall upstairs for beginners, there’s bouldering, of course a chin up bar, and there’s regular climbing and a good number of lead routes too. You can borrow the gym’s ropes. Continue reading

There’s a set of questions that I heard about today for the first time. They could be useful as questions to ask yourself when you’re goal-setting and planning to create a new habit or change an old habit.

Ken Blanchard created this system, and it’s called SMART Goals. The idea is that when you’re planning, here are the areas you can ask yourself about:

* Specific: What specifically are you going to do? What do you ultimately want to accomplish? How? What are the steps?
* Measurable: What will you keep track of? How will you keep track?
* Accountable: To whom will you be accountable? Who else knows that you’re doing this and can share in your small or large successes?
* Realistic: What are your concerns about achieving this plan? How does this differ from when you may have tried something similar before? How can you ensure that the goal is attainable? Is the timeframe realistic?
* Timely: When do you expect to see results? Are there intermediate milestones?

What’s nice is that it’s a simple acronym, and using it can make sure that you cover a lot of the bases of setting a goal. You’ve probably come across Ken Blanchard with the One Minute Manager.

Wouldn’t it be strange if you learned that yes, you can make brand new habits, and that the brand new habits can stick, and yet . . . that the old habits are still somewhere deep in your brain, and given an old triggering environment, the old habits may return?! That seems like the exact opposite of what you would want to hear on Jan 2, getting ready for the New Year and for new habits.

There’s actually valuable information in this – it’s the information of ‘be careful.’ Be careful not to fall into your old habits and old environments in which those habits fester.

Bob Condor of a Seattle newspaper writes, “What [Ann Graybiel] has found is that the brain never completely deletes old patterns, say, smoking, eating junk foods or, yes, riding a bicycle, from the basal ganglia region deep in the brain’s neural structure. Instead, those habitual patterns “retain memory of context,” such as a cocktail and conversation for an ex-smoker or potato chips in the pantry for the junk-food snacker.”

Ann Graybiel

Ann Graybiel is a Neuroscientist and Professor at MIT. Her latest researach about the basal ganglia brain region appeared in the journal Nature in October, 2005. In short, Connors argues that you can beat yourself at the same old game. By keeping the resolution and the new habits at the forefront of your mind, you can act successfully towards creating new habits and setting aside old ones. Connors suggests several verified techniques: do the new habit consistently, write your goals down, and do not put yourself into environments in which old habits are easily triggered (“Just the sight of a piece of chocolate can reset all of those good intentions,” says Graybiel).

This echoes the thoughts of philosophers from Aristotle to William James. Aristotle says, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Continue reading

Every once in a while, “happiness” hits the news. A few months back, it was the research that laughing makes for a happier life (including the journalists’ recommendations to watch more Jay Leno). Now, the latest is that researchers at Harvard and at Penn State say that the largest predictors of happiness are:
* physical health,
* relative income,
* education, and
* marital status.

The researchers Tach and Firebaugh used data of 20,000 people aged 20 to 64 from the 1972-2002 U.S. General Social Survey, a national survey taken every one-two years (more articles: here and here). I think the most interesting part is the first point – physical health is the primary contributor to happiness. The press, in a fascinating way, focused on the second point: “relative” income over “absolute” income. Specifically, the research states that for people making $20,000 more than the average in their peer group, their happiness increased by 10%. (It’s not clear from the press yet whether it’s relative health, realtive education, and relative marital status that contribute. Is everything “catching up with the Joneses”?)

I like the analysis by James Joyner that this result about “relative” income is very similar to the research of Robert K. Merton on “relative deprivation.” Merton found in his study of the American soldier that the military police and the air corp had different attitudes toward promotion. In the ranks of the military police, there was little promotion and everyone was generally happy whereas in the air corp, there was significant promotion for many people, and yet people saw their co-workers getting promoted and felt “relative deprivation.”