8 life-changing habits

“Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” – Benjamin Franklin

Those who know me well, know that I’m a man of habits. My mind can be quite chaotic and, without my daily structure, I probably wouldn’t get a whole lot of things done.

Over the years I’ve wrestled with implementing all kinds of habits into my life. I cannot overstate how important this process has been for me. Crafting your life in a way that promotes health, joy, creative output, and energy, can truly transform your existence.

Whether you like it or not, there is a certain oscillating element to your life. Doing something a certain way increases the probability of doing it like that again. Your days are full of habits, even when you’re not aware of them.

Unfortunately, many such habits are often not actually aligned with who you want to be. Therefore, I think tuning your life’s habits to your values is highly beneficial and a worthwhile pursuit for anyone.

Think about it: maybe the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is turn off your phone’s alarm, and then scroll through Facebook for >15 minutes. That’s a habit. And you can easily exchange it for something more valuable, like writing in your journal or practicing meditation.

In this article I will provide a brief overview of eight habits that have stimulated productivity and contentment in my own life. I think they can be useful to just about anyone.

 

Keep your bedroom offline

Really, try this.

Instead of watching TV, browsing the Internet, texting your boyfriend, or checking for likes on your newest foodgasm Instagram picture, leave all of that outside when you enter your bedroom. The time before and after you go to bed can be sacred, and used to nurture yourself or your relationship with whomever you may be with.

So try reading books, keeping a journal, listening to calm soothing music, meditating, having tantric sex, whatever you like. It will give your sleep a greater quality and promote a peace of mind.

 

Meditation

One of the best habits you could possibly adopt. I can honestly say that it has changed my life for the better.

Meditation gives you a chance to get to know yourself, increase your capacity for concentration, learn to sit and deal with the whole spectrum of human emotions, and has a large variety of health benefits. For more reasons to try meditation, see here.

 

Journaling

Not everyone likes to write, but if you do I think journaling can be a great investment. I personally journal in both the mornings and evenings. It helps me to stay focussed on the things that matter to me, as well as reflect on them.

Journaling also allows me to learn about my thoughts and emotions, and gives me a place to store them. Finally, it helps me be grateful for the small things in life that I would otherwise easily forget about.

My journaling process is as follows:
– Morning: Free writing / define three most important tasks for the day / affirmations or daily mantra (like: “take things one day at a time”, “be a good friend to …”, etc.)

– Evening: Free writing / reflect on day / write down 5-10 things that I’m grateful for today (usually things that happened, like an unexpected interaction or a beautiful sunset)

 

Be active every day

I try to work out every day. I usually take one day off but then I still try to take a walk, bike, or whatever gets me moving.

Physical activity is amazing for your physical as well as mental health and should not be overlooked. Furthermore, sports are a great way for me to meet up with friends and do something bonding that isn’t just talking. Not to mention that doing sports can really improve your confidence in yourself and is a great way to exercise your willpower as well.

 

Read books

It really surprises me that not a lot of people are still reading books. Reading a book is not the same as quickly scrolling through an article you found on Facebook. It requires concentration, a capacity for being bored/”under-stimulated,” and teaches you something that you couldn’t get from simply reading a summary.

What many of us do now is equal to watching a single scene and then feel like we’ve seen and understood the whole movie. The whole often truly is greater than the parts. Finishing a book can be extremely gratifying and can give you so much in addition to a simple blog post like this one.

I’d recommend that you create an account on GoodReads, make a list of books you’d like to read, and start from there.

 

Plan tomorrow today

Always have a realistic plan for tomorrow so that you know what you’d like to get done. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you still have to do, yet to somehow expect that you can do all of them “tomorrow”. It’s important to have realistic expectations so that you don’t get discouraged while optimising what you actually can get done.

I use WorkFlowy for my structured daily planning and Trello for my to-do’s lists.

 

Do something creative

Whether you’re writing something, producing music, practicing some instrument, dancing, or creating things with your hands, I think creative output is a great way of communicating your feelings without language. It’s a means of sharing your unique personality with the world and creating value that is not easily replicated.

It can also really deepen your appreciation for a particular domain of art. Ever since I started learning how to play guitar and tried to understand it, music seems to have gotten a new dimension. I can now hear the different instruments and appreciate complexity. Playing guitar has definitely improved my experience of listening to music.

 

Work without distraction

I mentioned Deep Work on this blog before and I think it’s one of the best ways to go about your work, especially if your tasks require a lot of thinking.

Distractions like checking your email while you are programming, studying or writing mess with your concentration in ways that you wouldn’t believe. If you want to optimise work efficiency you HAVE to get this down. I highly recommend that you pick up Cal Newport’s book on Deep Work.

Alright, these were some of my most useful habits. I hope they can serve you as well as they have served me!

Your personal memory playlist

“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.” – Stevie Wonder

When you listen to your favourite song, what do you feel?

Have you ever noticed how when you watch a movie it often isn’t the video-footage but the music that triggers emotion? And music isn’t limited to triggering emotion either. It may also assist the formation of memories [1].

Recently, my mom and I had a conversation about Alzheimer’s patients. We discussed how some of their memory function is regained after listening to music that they used to love (see more about such music therapy here).

We then had the idea to create memory playlists of our own. And while I’m obviously not planning to have Alzheimer’s disease anytime soon, I figured there could still be benefits to having such a playlist.

So I went about finding all the music that has meant something to me in the past. I wasn’t trying to find the best songs I’ve ever heard. Instead I was looking for songs that triggered a strong emotional reaction. Ideally these songs would elicit a rather vivid memory.

And as this playlist grew larger, I realized that the effects of such a playlist outreached my expectations. I’ve never had a playlist that could energise me quite like this one. It makes me feel at home and leaves me with a sense of nostalgia. Listening to this playlist gives me a deep appreciation for my personal journey and the path I’ve walked thus far. It helps me put my life into perspective.

 

A memory playlist of your own

It’s just an idea but if you like it, I definitely recommend that you create such a playlist for yourself. Mine contains songs from every possible genre, from musicians and bands such as Ludovico Einaudi, 2Pac, Emancipator, Bon Iver, Beatles, Bob Marley, Ben Howard, Christina Aguilera, Bon Jovi, Radiohead, Eric Clapton and Gregory Porter. They go together perfectly. Not because the music matches that well, but because they all touch a part of me and make wonderful memories surface.

Try it! I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

 

Notes

[1] Jäncke, L. (2008). Music, memory and emotion. Journal of Biology, 7(6), 21. http://doi.org/10.1186/jbiol82

Living with discomfort

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

I live in an apartment complex in quite a hectic neighbourhood with lots of construction work. And more often than I’d like, construction-related sounds wake me up early in the morning. Such sounds often have one of two origins, they either come from inside my building, and typically last a week at most, or from a nearby construction site, and may last for months.

Now, I’ve noticed something interesting: whenever I wake up from such noises, I often try to estimate where it comes from: inside or outside of the building. And my aversive response to them is based on that estimation.

When the noises come from inside the building, I’m usually like: “OK, it’ll only be a few days at most”, but when the noises are coming from outside I might think “F**kers!! They will ruin my sleep for the coming six months.”

However, note that neither of these assumptions are necessarily true. I’ve experienced that the construction inside of my building would go on for longer than a week and I’ve also experienced that an outside construction site was loud for a day and then wouldn’t wake me up for weeks.

The point is, it’s just a story that I tell myself and it really adds to my suffering… I’m not just losing a little sleep this particular morning. No, it will always be this bad and I’ll never get a good night’s sleep again.

 

Living with discomfort

I think this is a great metaphor for living with discomfort in general. A very significant part of the suffering arises from projecting it into the future.

Whether it’s circumstances, illness, thoughts, emotions or pain, when experiencing discomfort from any of these, I often try to predict how long it will take and base the intensity of my worry on that approximation.

But maybe this just isn’t very useful. I mean, unless I can do something to change it, do I really have to try and calculate how long I will suffer from it? Doesn’t it make sense to just take it day-by-day and wonder: “OK, what can I do right now to improve my quality of life”?

In the case of the construction-related sounds, I might put on headphones with white noise or earplugs. And in the case of a disturbing thought, emotion or physical sensation, I may try to allow it and then distract myself, meditate, or do something fun with a friend.

Either way, I think we can all agree that taking things day-by-day—that is, not predicting and worrying about something that may very well not happen—is highly beneficial.

And even when the construction site would actually be loud for a few days. Even when the amount of noise doesn’t objectively change for a good part of a month. I do know that at some point my relationship to these noises can change. Maybe I’ll adjust my sleep to it. Maybe I’ll use the white noise or earplugs and actually learn to sleep through it fine. Whatever, I’ll adapt.

 

Adaptation to discomfort

What if we can cut the predictions out and trust that either the circumstances, or how we relate to those circumstances, will change for the better? It doesn’t magically make our problems or aversion go away but it does help, quite a bit.

Humans can be wonderfully adaptive. People learn to live good lives with just a single limb. People learn to live with cancer and keep finding happy moments, even when the odds are stacked against them.

It’s not easy, it’s not what anyone ever wanted. Yet it’s a reality of life, discomfort simply is part of it. We cannot change the existence and realities of discomfort. All we can do is try and change our relationship to it, in order to limit how much we suffer from it.

So, can we stop living in the future and allow things to unfold as they are? Change is guaranteed and learning to trust in it is paramount. This process will take time, work and surely some frustration, but you’ll get there. It’s worth the struggle.

In fact, it is the struggle. For it’s often not the discomfort we’re worrying about that we suffer from, it’s the worry itself. Worrying about some “thing” often is the thing. And clearly seeing that may offer some headspace, allowing us to move beyond worry, to a place of finding comfort within discomfort.

What you can learn from doing chores

“The truth is, just having a concentrated mind — that’s not getting lost in thought — is just intrinsically pleasurable. It’s intrinsically blissful. It’s the emotional bass note of all the good drug experiences.” – Sam Harris

We can learn many things from doing chores actually.

Most of us don’t always like doing chores, and we often try to get them over with as soon as possible. But why is that? Can they not compete with our ever-interesting Pokémon Go playing?

While doing chores we frequently check our phones and watch our favorite TV series. We do it and dread doing it; only doing it out of sheer necessity.

I think that’s a shame because chores have the potential to teach us a lot. Not despite but because of their repetitive and boring nature.

 

Bringing your full awareness to chores

So please don’t aim for mind-numbing the next time that you’re doing chores. Bring your full-awareness to the task instead.

Besides getting more patient and disciplined, you will be cultivating single-minded focus and concentration. Furthermore, chores create a perfect opportunity to study the inner-workings of your mind.

So next time you’re doing your laundry, ironing shirts, vacuum cleaning your house or cleaning the toilet, do so with your full attention.

Don’t rush it. Be curious and you might learn a thing or two. “How am I responding to this activity?”, “which thoughts and emotions come up?”, “why am I trying to get this over with as quickly as possible?” You can rest assured that whatever comes up when you are bored is also influencing you when you’re not.

And don’t be surprised that, when you do so mindfully, you’ll actually start enjoying cleaning the toilet or scrubbing the sink. Attending to something is known to be pleasurable.

Maybe it’s not so much about the what as it is about the how. Maybe we can bring attention to many more parts of our lives. Chores are a good place to start.

Nurturing your attitude of wholeness

“Through the absence of what we think we have to have we can discover our wholeness”  – Renae A. Sauter

A while ago I read the Dutch book ‘Liefdesbang’ by Hannah Cuppen. ‘Afraid of love’, which the title translate to, describes how people who have fear of commitment are often attracted to people who fear abandonment and vise versa, which then leads to a perpetual back and forth dance of needing and rejecting.

Now, many people would see this as problematic. I bet all of us know at least one couple that is in such a relationship. And many of us, including myself, might argue that both these people have a thing or two to learn about themselves before settling down with someone else.

But then last week a dear friend of mine was talking about the same issue and approached it from an entirely different angle. Rather than judging such a relationship to be unhealthy, he said that these people have the remarkable potential to heal each other. Perhaps it’s this potential that they are attracted to, not this game of rejection.

These are two different ways of looking at the same thing and I think it’s important to be aware of this. Do we see it as a problem that we need to get rid of before committing to a relationship? Or is it a unique opportunity for growth?

Neither is objectively right or wrong yet such a shift in attitude might change everything. One attitude moves towards the matter, the other moves away from it. One attitude encourages movement while the other feels restrictive and limiting.

 

An attitude of wholeness

The challenge with many of our personal issues, I think, is whether we can keep seeing ourselves as whole beings rather than sums of broken parts that need fixing.

Nobody should ever have to feel defined by some word, label or life event. Nobody should ever have to feel like “one of those people”. The important question to ask is whether we can learn to see our problems as opportunities.

We should always attempt to see ourselves as whole and include even our least favorite parts of ourselves. This means we include our illnesses, the rough edges of our personalities, and the occasional (or maybe not so occasional) dark thought.

And I don’t think this is some kind of magical ‘AHA’ mind-shifting moment. At least, I know that for me it’s not. It’s a daily challenge to remind myself that I can always choose to see things from a different perspective. I often do this through journaling but you might also talk to a friend, silently contemplate, or whatever else helps you stay open-minded.

I wish this attitude upon everyone; even when they think it’s a load of crap, perhaps especially then.

5 useful tips for improving your daily routine

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” – Maria Popova (from this article on BrainPickings.org)

While this may seem obvious, I want to emphasise it anyway: how you spend the majority of your average day is how you will spend most of your life.

A very significant part of the average person’s day is spent sleeping, eating and working. Unfortunately, for many of us that time is non-negotiable. Therefore, it’s incredibly important how we make use of the time that remains.

According to The Wall Street Journal the typical American spends about 5.13 hours per day on leisure activities such as exercise, socializing and watching TV. I guess this holds true for most western countries. If you are to get anything done besides work and taking care of your basic needs, you have to craft these hours carefully.

 

5 useful tips for improving your daily routine

Over the years I’ve spent some serious time pondering how to use the hours of my days more effectively. I wouldn’t say I’m completely satisfied yet, but I’ve definitely made some huge improvements.

I would say that easily the most important thing is that you implement the right habits into your life. A routine without consistency isn’t really a routine. If you are able to build a solid routine with the right habits, you are on the right track!

Personally, I’ve been able to implement several habits into my life that I find extremely valuable, such as:
– Journaling twice a day
– Daily meditation or yoga
– Working out at least 4-5 times per week (usually every day)
– Deliberate guitar practice
– Healthy eating
Deep work

I don’t think I can overstate how grateful I am to my past self for putting in the time and effort and making these things feel ‘automatic’. These habits ensure that I spend my time wisely and on things that I find important.

A few strategies that I’ve found to be effective in implementing new habits into my routine are:
#1 One new habit at a time
#2 Gradual implementation
#3 Fixed timing
#4 Combining habits
#5 Make what you want to do the most accessible

Below, I’ll elaborate on each of these.

 

#1 One new habit at a time

Focussing on the implementation of just one habit at a time is crucial.

This means that you probably shouldn’t start working out and changing your diet at exactly the same time, it’s too much! What you could do instead is: you start working out, gradually and according to a plan, and let your nutrition be the way it was for a while. If you automatically start eating somewhat healthier, great. If not, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Then, once you’re consistently working out, say that in two months you’ve build up to running 3 times per week, doing some calisthenics on two other days, and taking brisk walks on your off-days, you can start focusing on nutrition. You’ll still be working out but that should be part of your routine now, it shouldn’t require as much effort anymore.

 

#2 Gradual implementation

I’ve already been hinting at this, but gradual implementation is very important!

For example: check out this article from Zenhabits on rising earlier. Leo recommends a gradual approach and suggests that we wake up 10-15 minutes earlier for a couple of days and, when we are comfortable with that, wake up a little earlier yet again.

I like this approach very much. Oftentimes we get too excited when introducing a new habit and overdo it. We might start running 4 times per week for the first two weeks, but then the third week we lose some motivation and only go three times, and then maybe the fourth week we don’t do any running at all. Mission failed.

Instead we should focus on gradual implementation. Go running twice a week instead and go for only 15 minutes. Then gradually build that up to maybe 30 minutes, 4 times per week. That’s the way to make long-lasting lifestyle changes.

Personally, I think you shouldn’t focus on results in the first few months but on habit implementation. Habit implementation should be the goal. Results will follow as a consequence of having an excellent routine.

 

#3 Fixed timing

Always try to perform your habit at exactly the same moment in your day.

I find daily habits often easier to implement than habits that I, for example, only perform twice a week.

If you don’t want to do something every day, like when going to the gym three times per week, then consider doing something else at exactly the same time on your off-days. Perhaps you can take a walk, or perhaps you can alternate it with something entirely different such as playing the guitar the other days of the week. The important thing is that you set aside some time each day to do this thing, or this rotation of things.

I understand that it isn’t always realistic to do something every day. You can definitely still use the techniques described in this article if you only do it two, or three times per week. It just might take a bit more time before these habits will be ingrained in your routine.

 

#4 Combining habits

It can really be helpful to combine habits that you want to incorporate in your life with habits that you’ve already implemented. This strategy is best illustrated by some examples:

  • I floss my teeth while I shower in the morning
  • I have a morning routine and an evening routine where I do several things consecutively, such as: rising – writing – drinking water – meditating

Always ask yourself if you can combine habits like this, it will make their implementation much easier because they become attached to something you were already doing. This is also why many successful people have and have had morning and evening routines. These are good moments to perform a few habits consecutively.

 

#5 Make what you want to do the most accessible

If you want yourself to do something, then you should make it as easy as humanly possible for yourself. Conversely, you could make the thing that is most likely to distract you more difficult. If, for example, you would like to play more guitar, you could leave your plugged-in Stratocaster on the couch and hide the TV remote.

In my own life I use a few simple hacks, such as:

– Electronic devices are not allowed in my bedroom, which encourages mono-tasking, less stimuli and better sleep

– I do not have a comfortable desk in my house, encouraging me to work elsewhere

– Distracting websites are blocked during the day by the Freedom app

Another example of this is that you exclusively keep food in the house that is healthy for you. And if you don’t like how much time you’re spending on Facebook, delete the app, have a browser app that limits the time you can spend on it, and while you’re at it completely block your newsfeed (I personally do all of these).

Whatever it is that you want to do more of, you can usually design your life in a way that encourages it. It may be extremely useful to take some time to think about this and make some changes if necessary.

I hope these tips help guide you in the right direction and assist you in building a lifestyle that is aligned with your values and dreams!

 

Where is this all headed?

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Where is this all headed?

I wish I could tell you friend
I wish, I wish I knew
But nobody really knows, do they?
We simply have to see it through

Bad things happen to good people
And safety is never guaranteed
But we find ourselves longing for it anyway
It’s what we desperately need

Suffering is very, very real
Anxiety and hurt; despair is a real burden
But in our heart of hearts we know, don’t we?
That when we yearn we’re also learning

We must move my dear
We must make way for change, however terrifying that might be
We must plunge in the deep
And stop asking “why” and “when” in order to be free

So brother raise your head
Oh sister, keep walking the walk
We may not know what’s in store for us
But we’re all connected through our challenges and love

And when we meet our endings
Which all of us will, sooner or later
When we leave our cherished vessels
And stand face-to-face with our creator

We will know that we could simply have trusted
That things will go the way they go
The single constant in our lives is change
And the enigmas of the future, none of us can know

Perhaps life’s purpose is the very lack of it

“The existence, the physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. That is to say it doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arrive at.” – Alan Watts

If you are like me, you’ve often asked yourself what’s the purpose of life is.

I guess most of us strive towards something greater at some point in our lives, yet this ‘something’ is highly individual, and we cannot all be right, can we?

Whether it’s a certain achievement like building a house, landing a dream job and producing a piece of art, or living a virtuous life in order to get to heaven, there is no singular truth.

We have many different religions and probably a greater variety of perspectives on life and death than we have Homo Sapiens walking this planet. It follows that the existence of an ultimate, general purpose for us human beings is highly unlikely.

 

Live on purpose rather than for a purpose

So what if this purposelessness is actually the purpose?

Maybe there’s no glory to attain, nothing to accomplish and nothing to be. This means we can decide for ourselves who we want to be and assign meaning to that, instead of to some higher goal.

Maybe we can do whatever we wish, shape ourselves in whatever way we want. If there’s no destination but one of our own devising—nowhere to move unless that’s where we aim to be—then we can just relax, make the best of it and enjoy our time here. We can live on purpose rather than for a purpose.

 

Why your life is not a journey

I highly recommend that you check out the video below in which philosopher Alan Watts explains why your life is not a journey. He compares life to a musical composition: there is no purpose to it but the thing itself. We do not listen to compositions because we want to arrive at some destination; we listen to it simply for the experience of listening to it.

So if life is like music, let’s sing, dance, play and travel the world! The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Be who you want to be. But don’t go chasing after some superfluous thing that won’t actually bring you joy. You are already where you have to be. Best enjoy the ride!

Can you accept a compliment?

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia

Can you accept a compliment?

Without feeling embarrassed.
Without needing it.
Without playing it down in your head.
Without immediately wanting to return it.
Without letting it pressure you in one way or the other.

Can you let it be, without adding anything to it? Allowing it to be perfect as it is.

Can you just let this compliment fill your heart with joy?

I’m guessing most of us find it difficult to accept compliments sometimes. But let’s not have that stop us from trying anyway. Because the capacity to gracefully accept compliments is a treasure. It’s a gift that we can only give to ourselves. And yes, we are worth it.

The student’s mindset

“Your mindset matters. It affects everything – from the business and investment decisions you make, to the way you raise your children, to your stress levels and overall well-being.” – Peter Diamandis

This is a brief post on a way of thinking that I’ve found to be useful in difficult times. We’ll call it the student’s mindset.

Having a student’s mindset means that you attempt to find teachings in anything that happens. Practically speaking this means that you might turn difficult life events into valuable lessons, and meaningless suffering into meaningful challenge.

It may sound pretentious, but it really isn’t. Surely life will still drag you down, but rather than just being helpless, or frustrated with it all, you could try to see such events as an opportunity to learn about yourself and the world around you.

 

The student’s mindset in action

I’ve found this mindset to be applicable to a large spectrum of hardships. For example, say a new building is being constructed next to your apartment and loud noises from the construction site wake you up at 7:30 am each morning. You can become angry about it every single day and perhaps even fantasize about physically harassing some of those construction workers. But you could also see it as the perfect opportunity to wake up earlier and see what that brings you.

Or if you were to break a leg, you could sit around in your apartment all day, binge-watching Netflix, and feel useless. But you could also see it as an opportunity to reconsider your life goals, and perhaps take some online courses.

Or say your spouse was to break up with you, leaving you feeling sad, depressed and unconfident. While these feelings are totally legit and you should allow yourself to feel them, you could also try to see this event as an opportunity to learn about yourself. You could see it as a chance to rediscover who you are without this other person by your side, what you want out of a relationship, or perhaps how you could have been more vulnerable, less dependent, etc.

Or even if a loved one were to die. While this is one of the worst things that could happen to you, it does not necessarily mean that you cannot also ascribe positive meaning to it. Yielding the student’s mindset you might find yourself pondering the deeper questions of life. You may find a deeper appreciation for things that you previously took for granted. Death can teach you about gratitude as much as anything, but you do have to open up to that possibility. The student’s mindset can help you with that.

 

But it’s not easy…

Please note that I’m not saying that adopting such a mindset is easy, because it’s not. It might take you many years of effort to cultivate it. Personally, I think I’ve only been scratching the surface of it in my own life. I nevertheless feel that the student’s mindset has significantly improved my overall well-being.

Experiment with it yourself, and try it on for size!