Adulting, Anxiety, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Minimalism

Disengage From The Game

By the game I mean the social media game. Or more specifically the comparison game.

While we all know that social media often presents us with a fictionalised version of the lives of our friends, family and random Instagram models we’ve never even met, we tend to forget about what it does to our attention spans and faculties for critical thinking.

It’s a minefield of distraction and overstimulation. Anyone who has ever found themselves down the rabbit hole of random YouTube Compilation videos can attest to this. So much is thrown at us that we become utterly overwhelmed and no longer able to dissect the merits of what we are observing.

After being given so many choices our brains are too busy trying to figure out which option is best that it totally bypasses the question of whether the choice itself is actually necessary to our lives.

When overwhelmed say no. Give yourself zero options or stimuli and instead try to assess the situation. From this assessment you will figure out what need you are trying to fulfil and what is the best way to meet it.

It’s like typing the word “robots” into google. Your results will probably be all over the place until you assess what it is you’re really after and put some limitations on your search, like “toy robots”. Then get critical with the smaller number of results you have arrived at. Keep adding more and more limitations, such as “toy robots 1995” to access the information that you actually need.

Instead of letting social media lead you by the nose, take control and decide what it is specifically that you are doing there. Are you on Twitter for information or out of boredom? Then specify your search or usage to cater to that need. Does Instagram inspire you or depress you? If it’s the later it’s probably time to assess who you’re following. And if you come to find you don’t need it, you can always disengage from it.

Here’s a useful exercise: firstly define what valuable information is to you, next monitor or make a physical note of all the valuable information you see on social media. Do this for a week or even a day and see how many truly important things you have seen. My guess is that you could count all the valuable information on one hand.

Yes keeping in touch with family and friends far away is important, but ask yourself are you actually keeping in touch or are you simply a passive observer of the fictionalised life they’ve presented on social media?

Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Motivation, Organisation

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

In the book “Atomic Habits”, author James Clear talks about the compound effects and benefits of making positive small decisions.

It’s the hundreds of small choices we make each and every day that influence our habits and identity. So if we are able to manipulate those choices for the better, pretty soon those choices will snowball into changing our lives for the better.

It’s an incredible book, marked with interesting anecdotes and life stories, designed to motivate and show you how to break down your behaviours and the choices behind them. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from reading this book is just how much your environment impacts your decision making. I always knew that visual cues were important influences on my behaviour. They’re essentially why I always feel hungry after a fast food ad. But it never occurred to me to harness this link for my own benefit.

Vision is the most powerful of all human sensory abilities according to Clear. Which means that visual cues are the biggest influence on human behaviour. So if you want to change your habits, you have to design your environment for success. “Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out.”

This concept really echoes the famous proverb “out of sight, out of mind”. If you want to avoid a bad habit, like say eating an entire block of chocolate, hide the chocolate or don’t have any in your home. Conversely if you want to encourage a good habit, like going for a walk every day, it’s a good idea to keep the cues for this action in your line of sight.

In our current “convenience is king” environment, by making your good habits more convenient than your bad ones, you will be more likely to follow through on the good. And that all starts with making them more obvious.

As of last year I have been trying to learn to play the guitar. It hasn’t been going super well. Although my guitar sits in the corner of my bedroom, a place where I can regularly see it, it still gets little to no use on a day to day basis.

With the help of this book, I’ve been giving more thought as to why this potential habit just isn’t sticking. A few things have occurred to me:

1. Even though my guitar is visible, I have no comfortable spot in which to sit and play it.
2. It’s constantly getting out of tune and I have no easy way to fix that.
3. I have exercise equipment in front of it, making the area look messy.

It’s funny how when you start to break down the visual cues in your environment, you begin to see all the obstacles you have inadvertently put in your way. It also becomes extremely obvious how lazy you have become.

My plan therefore is to remove as many obstacles as I can. So my first step will be to install a guitar tuner app on my phone and to actually tune my guitar. Next I’m moving the guitar to my living room. Specifically to the right side of my armchair. This chair is comfortable and offers the back support needed for good guitar playing posture. It’s also my favourite chair and one that I sit in regularly to watch TV.

I’m hoping that by changing the location of my guitar and guitar stand, I will make it easier to form the habit of practicing my playing each evening. Even if it’s just for a few minutes during commercial breaks, the goal is to start forming the habit. I can always build on that habit later.

Overall I adore this book and would recommend it to pretty much everyone I know, even my super organized friends. There is something new to learn for everyone. Remember it’s the hundreds of small steps that lead to great strides in behaviour.

Adulting, Books, Mindfulness, Minimalism

Borrow Before You Buy

When it comes to minimalism there seems to be many variants of the popular less is more philosophy. It’s one of the wonderful things about it, it’s such a flexible ideology that it can apply to anyone.

There are also many resources available to guide you on your minimalism journey, with what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming amount of advice. Having read my fair share of books on minimalism, I’ve come across many techniques to assist me in maintaining my minimalist lifestyle. I want to share one with you today that I find to be particularly useful.

The technique is called: Borrow before you buy. This can essentially be boiled down to a try before you buy philosophy.

A big part of minimalism is figuring out what brings you joy and thereby brings value to your life. It involves setting priorities in terms of where you spend your time, energy and money. But for many people, myself included, this presents a dilemma. How do I know what will bring joy or value to my life? How do I figure out what my priorities are without investing in the clutter often associated with them?

The trick is to borrow the item instead of purchasing it.

Whether you’ve decided to take up woodwork, playing guitar or have simply heard great things about a new book… See if you can borrow that item before investing in it.

After borrowing a friends old guitar for a few weeks you may find you really aren’t that musically inclined, or after borrowing that literary classic from the library you may admit that it is a highly over-rated read. The point is you are free from the commitment of owning that item. Or any feelings of regret at purchasing it. You can just return it to your friend or the library and be done with it.

Another version of this try before you buy, is rent before you buy. Want to start a DIY project but don’t have the power tools to do it? Well if asking a friend or neighbour isn’t an option, you can always rent the equipment instead. It will be more cost effective in the majority of cases, and if you find your dream hasn’t quite translated into reality you are not burdened with the task of selling or storing the unwanted items.

For me the borrow before you buy technique has been really helpful in turning what could typically be referred to as consumption into experience. When I borrow a DVD from the library for example, I have a limited amount of time to watch it. This means that I have to make time to watch it. It becomes an experience instead of just a way to pass time.

When I decided to try boxing classes, I asked a friend if I could tag along to one of her classes. Not only did I get to try the class for free under their bring a friend along free program, but I was able to borrow her spare set of wraps and rent out the gloves from the boxing studio. It was a great experience with zero up front commitment.

While this may not apply to everything, you would be surprised how many things you can borrow or rent. It’s definitely worth a try.

Adulting, Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Motivation, Organisation, Relationships

Breaking Through The Struggle

The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday is a book that makes reference to various tactics in overcoming obstacles. It does so by applying the stoic philosophy of Roman legend Marcus Aurelius to real world examples of amazing individuals who triumphed over adversity. It is very inspiring and exceptionally useful, as it focuses largely on changing your perceptions of challenges and failures.

One example is a chapter titled: “Using obstacles against themselves”. It posits that sometimes staying silent or simply remaining calm in the face of adversity is the best option. When I was in high school and had just started my first part-time job as a receptionist, my boss gave me an excellent piece of advice. He told me that the best tactic in dealing with upset people was to lower your voice. If they are raising their voice and demanding their way, lower your voice and calmly respond. They will have to do the same, if for no other reason than to actually be able to hear your responses.

This little nugget of wisdom stayed with me through my many years working in retail. It proved to be useful time and time again. I also believe that most people tend to mimic the behaviour of those around them, therefore by remaining calm and keeping my voice at a steady pace I found myself with customers who would also begin to do the same.

Sometimes reacting is just useless. Why not let the person that is getting in your way, get in their own way instead? The book suggests that instead of attacking, sometimes all we need to do is take a stand or even stand back. Let the obstacle tire itself out. Patience is a virtue after all, even if it’s one many of us might feel uncomfortable with when we are trying to achieve our goals.

Ultimately I have to say this is a brilliant book. Every person should read it as it will open your mind to the many different ways you can approach the difficulties in your life.

Adulting, Anxiety, Books, Mindfulness, Motivation

Fail Safe

Challenges are supposed to make you happy. The novelty alone should stimulate your mind in a positive way. However failure is often an inevitable part of this process. To at last succeed after various unsuccessful attempts can bring about deep feelings of satisfaction. I think that’s why people often highlight the importance of failure. I’ve often heard the phrase “anything worth doing is worth doing badly” thrown around in relation to this.
That all may be well and good for those seemingly self motivated, glass half full kindof people. But for some of us, even after we finally overcome the hurdle, satisfaction is not the feeling which we experience. Instead we look to the ground in shame wondering why it took us so long, when everyone else seems to fly through life with ease and control.
I’ve been reading “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success” by author Megan McArdle. It’s good. It’s very good. I suggest you read it.

According to McArdle, failure will occur because the universe is uncertain. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of preparation or perfunctory attempts. Success isn’t something you are, it’s something you develop and failure is necessary for this process. In learning to make mistakes, we also learn to understand them and thus how to correct them.
The truth about failure is that it’s hard. It’s extremely difficult in fact, to pick yourself up and start all over again. To stare down whatever it was that knocked you on your ass, take a deep breath and charge in to battle it once more. The book argues that much of this struggle is due to an ingrained fear of failure. It’s something that our parents and school (or really any early validation system) is responsible for. It occurs because we are taught to focus on the final product and ignore the earlier drafts. In fact quite often we never even get to see the earlier drafts.

While some mistakes deserve punishment, most are those we make as we learn. When we begin to do something we’ve never done before. When we write the first chapter, when we edit it, when we re-write it, and even when we edit the revision.

Maybe the reason it’s so hard is that failure is essentially forcing you to change. It’s basically telling you that whatever you are doing doesn’t work. Try again, but try something else. It forces you to grow and realize that there is more than one way to approach a situation, and that some methods are more effective than others. The worst thing you can do is get yourself into a position where you cannot fail. If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.

So instead of avoiding failure, we must train ourselves to be more resilient. Take small calculated risks, so it’s easier to stand up after you topple over. Don’t place blame, not on other people and not on yourself. There are a multitude of reasons something you were striving for failed. Don’t be conceded and assume it was all because of you.

Anxiety, Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness

Quiet Time

Meditation is the practice of quieting your mind. This is no easy task. So I’m reading “The Meditation Transformation” by Jennifer Brooks.

The book begins with a spiel on what meditation is and several pages explaining the benefits of a daily meditation practice. I’m not going to lie, I skipped this part. Having already read a plethora of articles and enduring various conversations with my therapist, doctor and naturopath about the benefits of meditation, I felt I had a thorough grip of the material.

Following this was a list of excuses commonly used by individuals who are beginning a meditation practice, to condone their defection. This part was actually useful in describing the ideal environment for meditation: Quiet, private and comfortable. It should be noted that thus far the book wasn’t particularly exciting…

That was until I arrived at chapter 5: Alternatives to Meditation. This chapter looked at visualization, guided imagery and relaxation, all of which can be classified as forms of meditation that seem to be more accommodating to the over active brain. For example when utilising visualisation, instead of simply focusing on your breathing you will instead dedicate your meditation time to painting an object in acute detail in your mind.

Chapter 6: Not All Meditation is Created Equal also explores alternatives to typical meditation practices. It covers exercises such as movement, body scan, mindfulness, walking, concept, gap, empty mind, mantra, vibrational and transcendental meditation. Each of these exercises is explained in detail and is easy to comprehend through its step by step layout. I should mention at this juncture that currently this e-book is free to download at the amazon/kindle store, so I would highly recommend picking it up.

Overall this was an extremely informative book, full of great techniques and exercises to bring to your meditation practice. Perfect for beginners like myself.

Adulting, Anxiety, Books, Mindfulness, Motivation

Journaling

I recently picked up a self help guide titled: “100 Days of Gratefulness: A Gratitude Journal” by Amy J. Blake. Although I’m not entirely sure if you could call it a guide per se, it’s more like a journal with prompts. Each page is titled with a question, such as “How am I fortunate?” and then it gives you space to provide an answer. Ideally you would tackle one question each day, spending approximately ten minutes on your response. There are one hundred questions in total, all of which ask you in one way or another what you are grateful for.

I’ve read books on the power of gratefulness before, and I am quite aware of the positive effects this practice can have in your life. However it can be difficult to get started. That’s why having a journal with pre-designed prompts can help. It makes the entire process a lot easier by incorporating more structure to the practice and through it’s one question a day set up it can assist in making gratefulness a habit.

You don’t necessarily need to buy a journal like this one either. Any notebook will do, just google gratitude prompts to obtain the questions. Then take some time each day to answer one, I personally like to write a response with my morning cup of coffee. There is just something substantial about writing your responses down, about taking the time to really collect your thoughts, which makes journaling a great medium for practicing gratefulness. In the past I’ve simply spouted lists of things I’m grateful for at random times throughout the day, but the intention behind writing makes it more meaningful.