Meditation is often seen as one of those ridiculous, new age things that can’t possibly be rooted in science. Why should anyone take sitting in the floor with your eyes closed while humming “ommm” to yourself seriously? I don’t blame anyone for scoffing at the practice. I usually tend to smirk to myself when I hear people talking about homeopathic treatments that have no scientific legs to stand on. But meditation has been subjected to many studies over recent years, and the results have been really exciting.
Scientists have been looking at meditation since the 1950’s and basically a new subfield of neuroscience has resulted. They’ve hooked all kinds of people to all kinds of machines to study how the practice affects the brain and the body. When they look at the meditating brain in real time, they can see that it’s actually rewiring itself. The unhappy are actively making themselves happier, the stressed less stressed, and those in chronic pain have found relief, not by way of any placebo effect, but through the mind-altering effects of meditation.
As a naturally stressed person, I decided to try meditation about a year ago after looking at all the research. I started with simple breathing for 10 minutes everyday, and then I began focusing on positive energy, until finally I was mostly reflecting on my situation and the greater questions of life. I have since backslid and want to pick it back up as I go through all the rigors and uncertainties of moving to China. I’m bringing you guys along for the ride rather than go through a refresher course on my own.
How to Begin
Meditating is one of those things that when you see it, it looks pretty damn easy. Sure, I can sit in a quiet corner for a few. But when you do sit down with the intent to meditate, you might find yourself at a loss of how to begin. You may ask yourself, “Am I doing it? Am I meditating?” Probably not.
First, set aside an appropriate time to meditate. I used to do it before I went to bed as a way to free my mind, but have since been corrected. Apparently the best time to do it is in the morning because it gives you new energy, and you’re essentially wasting it by going to sleep afterward. Well, excussse me (thanks Kate). Try to find 10 - 20 minutes after you wake up in the morning.
Next, and predictably, find a quiet spot. Indoors or outdoors both work, but if you live in the mountains, there’s no where more quiet and free of distraction (albeit not very practical to stop at your local mountain on the way to work). Switch off the TV, dim the lights, and if you have roommates, tell them to leave you alone. Pop a squat.
Close your eyes, and don’t try to (mentally) do anything immediately. Just relax, breathe evenly, and slowly drift into a state of relaxation. Slowly focus on your breathing, the air coming in and the air leaving you. I’m going to get crunchy here; feel new energy enter you as you inhale and negative energy leaving you as you exhale.
You can also focus on a mental picture, or a single thought. The point is to calm the storm in your mind created by work, errands, emotions, and people by centering it on one simple thing. For a few minutes every day, you are not stressed, you are not worried, you are not angry or sad, you are simply calm.
Different Types of Meditation
Focused Meditation - The process I described above is a very simple and beneficial meditation practice geared toward decluttering your head. This is simply a state of being that we’re often too busy to discover within ourselves. Once you begin to find this state of calm and quiet during your meditation sessions, you will train your brain to slip into this state with more ease throughout everyday life. Eventually you will be able to accept the same things that usually frustrate you with more peace than inward rebellion.
Mindfulness Meditation - During mindfulness meditation, you let your mind simply be aware of what’s around you. You don’t necessarily have to find a quiet spot, because any noise can become part of the meditation. Just as in focused meditation, breath at a natural rhythm, but don’t focus on anything in particular. Just let sounds drift over you, whether they be planes, screaming children, or noisy traffic. Your environment is the tide, and you are simply absorbing it as it ebbs and flows over you.
Happiness Meditation - We are actually ruled by our genes to a certain extent regarding our personal happiness levels, but meditation is something we can all do to rewire our brains for more positive emotion. Again, follow the same steps above, except this time you will focus on your thoughts and emotions. Push the negative feelings you have about yourself and others out. Don’t try to address or solve them, simple breathe the negative energy out, and on the inhales feel the new energy entering your body. Slowly, you will begin to feel more acceptance of yourself and others.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is good for so many reasons…some that have come out of several studies, and others that we will experience on a more individualized level.
No matter what meditation technique you choose, it will surely neutralize stress and hone your ability to deal with it in real time, when you’re at the office and not in your quiet place. Eliminating stress from your life will naturally lead to better health.
Constant stress keeps your body in a prolonged state of fight-or-flight in which your body is savaged by elevated levels of natural hormones and steroids that are only meant to be used for a short time. When the body must rely on these chemicals constantly for you to accomplish your goals, long-term health effects such as a weakened immune system and cardiovascular problems arise. Meditate, and your body will thank you.
Other people will thank you, too. When we focus on positive emotion during meditation, we become happier. Confronting our personal flaws, acknowledging them, and virtually making peace with ourselves will make us happier. Consequently, we are more accepting and kind to others despite their flaws. Can meditation cure my road-rage? I’m excited to see.
Meditation seems to be a silver-bullet solution to our physical, mental and emotional well-being, and I will definitely be keeping up with the thinkers who seem to be discovering more good things on this practice constantly. For now, find a quiet place, say “ommm” if you must, and reap the benefits.
I was sitting cross-legged in the grass on top of a bald in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, surrounded by blue, hazy vistas on all sides. Kate and I relished in the satisfaction of the 4-mile hike it took to get there, and in each other. We were together for the first time in 3 months. I bit into a crisp apple, and let the crunch, the sweetness, the wind envelop me in a profound snapshot of self-actualization. I was completely happy, burdened by nothing in the moment.
It seems like some people can access moments like these on the fly, while the rest of us struggle for that obscure and elusive notion that is happiness for our entire lives. Are some people just naturally more happy? Yes, actually. Happiness is in our genes. A staggering 50% of our happiness levels are determined by genetics. On top of that, outside circumstances that are mostly beyond our control determine another 10%. Well, shit, if you’re naturally not a very happy person, where does that leave you?
Fear not, we still have another 40% to play around with that comes from our intentional activities. We’re indeed the masters of our own destinies. Along my personal journey down the minimalist path over the years I’ve been trying to pin down some of these intentional activities so that I may be more mindful of life’s journey and, of course, happier along the way. These are a few things that I’ve been doing lately to maximize my happiness level.
Count your blessings.
Okay, cheesy advice, I know. But whenever I get stressed out about some complete first-world problem, after a little bit of reflection on what I have and just how easily my situation could be much worse…I feel better. A couple of images out of Syria are enough to make that annoying thing at work you have to do a task to be embraced. A lot of us really don’t know how well we’ve got it, and taking a step back and actually looking at all the positives relative to the rest of the world really make the not so great parts of life seem trivial and almost shameful to dwell on.
Don’t let happiness be determined by benchmarks.
Even up until very recently, I let my happiness be dependent on how much progress I was making at any given moment with my massive to-do list. While I love making lists, this is one of their drawbacks. They create a sense of urgency if there’s many items yet to be checked off, even if you have all the time in the world to complete them. Then you just feel guilty if you’re trying to catch up on Game of Thrones when you could be writing a blog post. Use the list as a tool and nothing more. There’s no point in rooting your happiness in achieving some huge benchmark far off into the future because our grand to-do lists will always be changing, and you will find more happiness living in the moment anyway.
Draw a firm line between work and leisure.
This is so important! As soon as I leave my job on Friday, I sign out of the school’s Gmail account on all of my devices. I do not bring work home with me. Even my writing, which I love to do, takes a backseat to cracking open a few cold ones on at least one day during the weekend. Establish one day of the week that’s full of things you love to do. Knock back some beers, go out with friends, hike up a mountain, or stay in and read a book. Just don’t work, and try to avoid errands if it can be helped. It’s your sanity day, and a leap forward to achieving an ideal work-life balance, something that’s sure to make us all a lot happier.
Go for a run.
I try to go running as much as possible. Apart from the obvious health benefits, it does actually get you high. Running, as well as sex, food, and pain, send a rush of endorphins to your brain. Endorphins are basically a natural drug in your body that trigger the brain’s opioid receptors to ease pain or reward you for things like eating ice cream and getting laid. Also for running. I feel much happier after an hour-long run. Endorphins aside, it gives me time to think. I’ve probably worked out some of life’s biggest problems on long runs while falling inadvertently into deep pits of meditation. The inner-peace and free Vicodin from my body both make me happier.
Sit and meditate for a spell.
Speaking of meditation, this is another action we can take to increase our happiness. In fact, it’s actually been proven to rewire our brains to experience more positive emotion. Now, there are several different types, from simple meditation of just focusing on your breathing or specific area of the body, to more complex states of analyzing your thoughts and emotions. Ironically, hardcore meditators get worked up over what is and isn’t meditation. Some say if you think too much, you’re doing it wrong, but I disagree. I could write a whole post on meditation, and you know what? I think I will next week. Right now, just know that it will make you happier.
Rationalize life’s problems.
Stress can definitely eat away at our happiness, and we should keep it in check before it snowballs into something that creates frequent tension headaches. Like most things, I prefer to use logic and reason to acknowledge the stuff I can control and the stuff I can’t. I put my problems in their appropriate boxes. Make a list. One side has negative things (relationships, projects at work, diet, anything) that you can change, the other has things you can’t change. Jot down ideas for how you will change the things you can, and how you can at least improve the situations that you can’t. Systematically snipe away your stress in this way and become happier.
You Are in Control
So maybe we’re somewhat at the mercy of our genes when it comes to happiness. But there are still so many things we can do to augment that 40% we have control over. Think about what you have, even if you don’t have much, odds are you have more than you think. Get out of your planning books for a while and worry only about the present day. Learn how to separate your work from your downtime. Chill hard when you can. Running gets you high and meditation gets you enlightened. Rationalize what stresses you out instead of letting it rule your world. Try working some of these things into your life slowly and perhaps the filter you perceive life through will begin to gradually brighten.
For more on the science and different factors behind happiness, check out the super interesting documentary Happy on Netflix.
A couple of posts ago, I listed a few ways that the average person could travel sustainably long-term. Everyone should be aware of these escape routes that can lead out of the office and into a different culture. Once you decide to pursue any of these or other opportunities, there’s loads to be done. Research, visas, communication, packing, etc… How much thought and work you put into these things could define your entire experience.
I know that it’s a common romanticization of travel to roam as free as the wind with no planning, and then a lot of awesome stuff happens. Fair enough. Go overstay your visa on this notion; being trapped indefinitely in a Thai prison would make for a good story, to be sure.
The thing is, there’s governments, borders, laws, bureaucratic red tape, and all sorts of stuff that must be researched and honored when we want to go somewhere. It’s a part of travel. If you want to live out of a tiny backpack, that’s awesome and I applaud your minimalist choice. But please, for the love of god, don’t be willfully ignorant of things that really matter for the sake of your “we live in a world of imagined borders” philosophy. You WILL pay for it in the end.
Now, with that lovely, albeit very heartfelt preface, let’s talk about preparation.
Determine your goals.
What do you enjoy doing? Where do you want to do it? If you’re simply looking for a drastic change, then you might not need to be so specific. Think of a place you’d like to go to and start checking out the job scene there. Where you’d like to go…hmm. Now that’s a conundrum in itself. There’s a huge world out there and a lot to choose from. It really depends on your personality, and what you’re looking for.
Find a primary source of information.
Not the ones you will find in the library for your research paper, but a person who has done what you want to do, preferably in the country you want to live in. Most everyone usually has that one friend who’s been doing crazy stuff abroad. Talk to them. If not, go through your roster of friends and see if you can find a friend of a friend who is “that guy.” They will be able to tell you just how the process works and how intensive it is. You never know, you may find an invaluable inside track or even a wealth of contacts abroad that could fast track you right into the position and country you’ve been hoping for.
Research, research, research.
1. The Country - The first thing you should look at is the place you’re considering living and working in. You may think you’ve found an awesome opportunity, but is the political/social climate worth the risk? If you’re a woman, would you be willing to endure being treated as a second-class citizen in the Middle East? What about the food? WHAT?! You can’t get booze here?! These are important things to find out BEFORE you get there.
2. The Work - Yeah, you should probably look into a few things relating to the thing you’ll be spending 20-40 hours a week doing. Definitely look for stories, both of success and horror. There are many resources online for this. For instance, if you plan on teaching English, there’s an actual blacklist of schools that have treated foreign teachers terribly after selling that cushy job so hard to them. Resources like this could potentially save you a lot of headaches.
Find an opportunity.
If you don’t already have something in mind, start searching online. It’s the solution to everything! We may have traded out a paper substrate for an electronic one, but the good old-fashioned classifieds still exist out there. Start with echinacities and ajarn for teaching English in Asia, and helpx for work stay projects all over the world. EasyExpat also carries global classifieds, job listings, and expat guides. Search these sites, but don’t limit yourself to the classifieds. It’s possible that you could find that golden opportunity simply by asking a question in the forums.
Get your papers ready.
1. On the employer’s end - At the very least, you’ll have to do an application of some sort for almost any opportunity abroad. Be quick about it, because it’s probably the first of many hurdles to come. There’s typically different stages when dealing with your potential employer or organization. First you apply, maybe sending in your CV, copy of your passport, etc. If all of that checks out, you could be interviewed. And on it goes. You will probably need to get documents from them in turn, to show to the government. Then the fun begins.
2. On the government’s end - This will depend entirely on where you’re going, what you’re doing there, and for how long. Visa applications to some countries are quick and painless. Others require a plethora of documentation - visa application, passport, invitation letter from an employer, criminal background check, fingerprints, photos, proof of funds, etc - before a long wait as all of this is processed. Read the directions carefully on the embassy website of the destination country, as well as the accounts of others who have been through the process. Double-check everything!
Once you get to a point where nothing has to be mailed or emailed, all the essentials for the journey are waiting to be packed, and you’ve been poked innumerable times to ward off scary jungle diseases, the waiting begins. You may even still be at your old job. Don’t let it get you down and keep your gaze forward. Keep researching your destination. Find a news site for it and get a feel for it’s sociopolitical pulse. Read some good travel writing to get you in the adventurous spirit. Live vicariously through others until you can do it yourself.
Throw out your expectations.
You’re going to be working in a different country, so you can’t really go there expecting the same workplace culture as in your country. You will be disappointed fairly quickly. Go there with no expectations to weigh you down and you can take the experiences as they come. Embrace some new ways of thinking and doing things, while rejecting the ones that just simply do not fit with you, for moral reasons or otherwise. It’s okay to filter; just don’t go in with a forcefield up. Culture shock is fun.
The amount of people who would like travel, but are too discouraged by any number of reasons compared to those who do manage to uproot themselves and go somewhere else must be staggering. Some have kids, something I have no experience with. But others are too afraid to leave their jobs, financial uncertainty manifesting itself as a scary enough spectre that will keep a person stuck in a job that they detest. Another sample of the population might even be willing to leave their job, if only they didn’t have a house and all the stuff inside of it to worry about leaving behind.
All of these things are solvable. First of all, there are plenty of long-term opportunities abroad that are either affordable or will even pay you. Don’t let a paycheck tether you to a situation and a place you don’t want to be in. Last month I talked about decluttering, deobligating, and desocializing in order to more easily cut ties and become mobile. So for those of us who feel rooted to the spot by stuff, I suggest starting there to learn about a future with less shackles and more freedom of movement.
For those of you with a foot rooted in your current life and the other kicking the door down, here’s a few options for sustainable, long-term travel that you can allow to ferment for a while:
You may not get paid, but several organizations will cover costs for food and accommodation. Oh, and you have that nice warm and fuzzy feeling that you get from helping people. I would advise you to avoid the hell out of programs that charge a huge fee for you to travel and work for free. How very altruistic. Search long and hard, and you’ll find a program that will appreciate your free work. I highly recommend the Iceland Conservation Volunteers. You will travel all over Iceland, working in some of the most beautiful and remote locations, all on the government’s dime. They provide accommodation, food, and transportation around the country. The only thing you need to worry about is a flight to Reykjavík and your holiday week in the middle of the program, so it’s a sweet deal indeed. Matador Network is always a wealth of info on volunteering abroad and all things travel.
The Peace Corps
Yes, you too can be that lone, fluorescent white face in the photos you send back home to mom. For the more independent types out there, the Peace Corps will place you in a community of a developing nation, all by your lonesome more often than not. For two years, you will work toward developing that community in whichever specialization the Peace Corps deems you best at, based on your application. It could be teaching, business, infrastructure, health, what have you. Your accommodation is usually provided, although you could be living with a host family, which would surely result in some amazing cultural experiences. The Corps gives you a stipend equivalent to the average middle class wage of your area that will allow you to live comfortably while also giving you more appreciation for the things you may have previously taken for granted. They will also do other cool things, like defer your student loans!
Teaching English Abroad
Want to live in a different country making decent money while saving most of it? Then teach English in Southeast Asia. The requirements are surprisingly minimal. In an increasingly globalized world, English is at a premium, and native speakers are in high demand for the classroom. So much so that they may ignore the fact that you have no relevant skills or experience to teaching provided you have a degree in…well, anything really. The low standard of living in these countries will allow you to make a decent salary while spending very little. But don’t let words like “squat toilet” scare you away. Many schools provide teachers with surprisingly modern apartments for free (the norm in China). Primp your CV and start the job search on eChinaCities for China and ajarn for Thailand.
For those that are absolutely dying to get their hands dirty after working in a cubicle (work coffin), there are an unbelieveable amount of opportunities on farms all over the world. Just a few minutes of browsing helpx will convince you that the world is out there for the taking. In exchange for helping out on a farm, the owner(s) will put you up with food and lodging. The work varies. Taking care of animals, working in organic gardens, pruning vineyards, helping out in lodges or B&B’s, and blazing trails on acres of land are just a few job descriptions. Living and working with your host will be a great opportunity for an exchange of culture and friendships.
Lower the Standard
If you can afford it, why not knock about and do nothing while you travel? You can wander around India for six months on 2 grand. Sounds like money well spent to me. Want little responsibility and a lot of freedom? Simply travel around the developing world. Obviously there’s a price for these low prices, and that is a lower standard of living that you will have to adapt to. Living in these conditions and meeting the people that live in them will open your eyes to the greater population of the world. You never know; the rapid beat of humid heat, poor infrastructure, and street food roulette may be right up your alley! Vagabond Journey and Matador Network are full of tales of bumming it in the third, second, and even first worlds, and provide some insightful guides on how to bum.
Leaving everything behind to travel long term is hard work, but it’s work towards achieving some semblance of self-actualization rather than the meek acceptance of a paycheck that enables a march to the beat of mundane life. Not that that’s a bad thing. If you enjoy your life, then that’s great. But for those who feel trapped, whether by job or by country, there is an escape. The world is full of places to escape to. I’ve listed a few possibilities just to get you thinking.
Next week I’ll outline a process of preparation that could be useful to anyone who’s latched on to the idea of leaving everything behind for parts unknown. Preparation can make all the difference between a comfortable transition and things eventually falling through, which can be a hard pill to swallow if you have your hopes up for something different. I’ll tell you how to get your ducks in a row while still embracing mindful uncertainty and spontaneity.
We are all masons, in a way. We all have the capacity to build. We only need the right tools, and the right vision to see into the materials we’re working with. Most of the time we’ll need to start out with stone. These are our rough ideas that need to be blueprinted. Once we have an idea, we can use the appropriate tools to fashion these ideas into bricks, or a solid product that we are ready to share with the world. And how do we do that? Mortar, of course! Come on, you saw where this analogy was going.
You stumble over some rough, unhewn stone in the forest of your mind. It’s your neat, innovative idea that needs only to be pinned down and planned out. It’s the first step toward building something. Some might be rougher than others and require careful planning. I always start out by making a list, or writing a well-thought out proposal to myself so I can actually understand what I want to do. Yes, it’s possible to have an idea without fully understanding the aim until you pull the thing out of your head and lay it out in front of you on paper.
Stone for this post: The idea to compose a long, drawn out, possibly asinine metaphor comparing an antiquated profession to making creative work in the 21st century.
Now you need to look into your toolkit to find the best tools for cutting the stone and working your idea into something recognizable. Each individual has different skillsets and tools to put to work in order to draw out a physical manifestation of their ideas. A designer’s skillset may include a particular knack for slick typography while they may number Adobe Creative Suite, a beastly MacBook, and a Wacom tablet among their tools.
Tools for this post: Moleskine journal, iPad Mini, Apple Keyboard, Google Drive, Adobe Photoshop, photos from travels.
A well-shaped brick arises out of careful planning and the use of the proper tools. It is our final product. From our rough ideas, to a first draft, to final editing, we our using our tools to slowly shape our stone into a perfect (or so we hope) brick. However, we are not finished once we have this finished product. It has to be effectively integrated with other bricks in order to make a standing structure that can be seen by the rest of the world.
Brick for this post: A complete, articulated thought/opinion on productivity that could be beneficial to others.
The final products of our ideas cannot be seen by the world without some type of support. Nor can they stand on their own these days. In the past, you had to go through the gatekeepers of the world - publishers, A&R people, agents, etc - if you wanted to push a book, album, or work of art through to the public. Now we can do most of these things ourselves. That’s where the mortar comes in. Blogging platforms, social media, digital portfolio sites like Behance - they are the mortar by which we can assemble our brand and our products in a way that some may find valuable and/or helpful.
Mortar for this post: Tumblr is the platform by which the post was published while my social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, About.me) represents my personal brand and draws people into the content I’m publishing.
Go Forth and Build
The next time you find a stone, try to plan out your workflow from start to finish in this way. Clearly articulate your idea on paper, the tools and skills you will need to use in order to realize it, what you want your final product to achieve, and how you will stand it up for the world to see. You have the ideas! You have the tools! Go out and build something!
I’m concluding Minimalist Month with a post that is going to seem really cutthroat and make me look like a cold dude, but I promise there is virtue in it. What’s left to cut out of our lives after excessive material things and unnecessary, time-consuming obligations?
Unnecessary, unproductive, unfulfilling, time-consuming, toxic relationships.
We’re social creatures, and Maslow argues that one of our core needs is love. Friendship, a sense of belonging, sexual intimacy; stuff I would never say is a bad thing. They’re all great things. Which is precisely the reason we go rushing in, head down, into relationships without thinking. We crave them to get us over the next ladder rung on the way to self-actualization.
The result is a few great relationships, several moderate meh’s, and some outliers that provide little reward in exchange for a lot of work. The minimalist should be mindful of who he or she decides to give his or her time to. The aim is to clear the chaff until we’re left with great relationships, and to continue to pursue relationships that have the potential to be great.
Do not enter into or continue a relationship with an individual (friend, buddy, bro, significant other or otherwise) if…
…they create or facilitate drama.
Drama. A lot of people secretly love and crave it. I personally hate it. It’s a time-waster, especially if it arises out of some pseudo-problem that is commonly generated to satiate someone’s need for drama in the first place to make their life interesting. Every time I have offered to listen to what sort of drama a friend has gotten themselves into, a pattern emerges that breaches all genders and age groups. It’s all self-inflicted. Sure, we all have our problems, but going on about the juicy details, developing a cast of characters without even hearing their side of the story and subsequently praising them or demonizing them is far from a productive solution. Find some friends that value more in life than this petty he-said, she-said shit.
…you need them to be a source of validation.
Basing your actions on the approval or disapproval of others is a great way to limit yourself. If you told your entire network of friends that you were moving to China to teach English for a year, how would they react? Hopefully, regardless of how crazy they thought you had become, they would encourage you, because that’s what a true friend would do. Asking for advice is one thing, but letting your big decisions and goals in life depend on the weight of someone’s words is not healthy. Requiring their approval for whatever reason will crush your potential and hold you back from major achievements in life. If you can’t break your dependence on their opinion, it’s best to sever the relationship.
…they’re a black hole of negativity.
This type of person can take on many shapes and forms. It could be the average Debbie downer, negative Nancy, or Dolorous Ed, or they could be as hostile as a black hole of negativity that strives to hold everyone around them down their level. These sorts of people are the embodiment of the old adage, misery loves company. Stay away from them. Negativity and minimalism simply do not go together.
…it’s just out of habit.
I can’t think of many worse reasons to continue a relationship that has ran its course. Different people experience personal growth and evolution at a varying rates, and it’s only natural that we sometimes outgrow our friends. It can be a painful thing to realize, but it happens. Pursuing continuity in stagnated relationships will burn your time as you try to feign interest in interests that have diverged from your own over the years. Luckily, these things usually come to a natural termination as you lose touch over time because of your growing apart, but it may be up to you to end your association and seek out more like-minded individuals.
The Great Facebook Cull
The easiest way to start untethering from toxic or simply outdated relationships is to thin your herd of Facebook “friends.” First of all, how many of these people are actually your friends? The last time I had a Facebook culling, I even found people I rather disliked on my friends list. Social media is great, but it has begun to redefine friendship and reduce it’s meaning down to a very disingenuous level. It’s a great tool to keep in touch with friends abroad, as well as friends back home, but our friends lists should reflect our attitude towards relationships in the real world. Simply pare it down to meaningful relationships, even ones that exist solely online. A great time to do this is during any major election. Keep Facebook open; the ones that fell through the cracks will slowly reveal themselves.
Less People More Enrichment
The crux of minimalism is less is more. This concept works with virtually everything, including the amount of people we spread our time across at a given moment. If we strive for a concentrated network of people who value us as much as we value them, support us, encourage us, and hold us accountable, all the while engaging us in stimulating, thought-provoking conversation, then we are on the right track.
But I guess I could just be a cold bastard that doesn’t have time for petty bullshit. I’m going back to my cave now. Have a nice day!
“Hey, can you help me with this thing that you probably have little to no interest in doing, because I procrastinated for too long?” No. “Hi, I don’t know you, but can you come to my kid’s piano recital?” No. “We’re starting this new bi-weekly community thingy —” No, no, no, a million times no. Sometimes the right answer is a simple, but polite, “no.”
We all have stress in our lives, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Some good, some bad, some more or less than others, imagined, or very real and overwhelming. Stress creates undulating waves of pressure and unease that pervade our minds, and if left unchecked, our bodies. Its nebulous nature can make it hard to pin down sometimes. Ironically, the only way to conquer it is to do just that.
If we want more room to breathe in our lives, we have to eliminate stress while also adding a filter that selectively allows more good stress. This filter should prevent petty and unnecessary obligations from being added to our already busy lives, and preserve a comfortable pace of living that allows us to maintain a comfortable line of balance between life and work. However, this filter should allow opportunities that could benefit us and amplify our experience.
1. Identify the stress you already have.
The first logical step before taking on any additional obligations is to be aware of everything you already have going on. Half the time we’re so stressed because we don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, or when it needs to be done by. We need to organize the shitstorm we already have building in our brains before we let anything else in from the outside (that we have control over). The best way to do that is to make a list. Traditionally, I use pen and paper but recently I’ve taken a liking to WorkFlowy, a list app for the web, iPhone, and iPad.
2. Filter out petty obligations.
Stop doing things that don’t maximize your time and enjoyment. Stop doing things simply to please people who are barely acquaintances, let alone friends. It is absolutely not wrong at all to be selfish sometimes. We only have so much of ourselves to give, and we should choose wisely when faced with relinquishing even the smallest piece to to someone else. The time you spent making a flyer for someone who “heard you knew how to use Photoshop” and didn’t want to spend money on a designer could have been spent reading a book.
3. Let in opportunities.
Some obligations can be life-enriching opportunities. The trick is taking the time to identify them before having a gut response to the person in the hallway asking something of you. Could I use the article this person wants me to write in my portfolio? Better yet, a “let me get back to you” while you consult the list you made earlier would be a great move.
I realize that this way of thinking sounds pretty selfish to a lot of people, but just think about it. You have one life. You should look out for yourself in that short duration instead of continually worrying about pleasing people that have no bearing your life.
Genuinely wanting to help someone is completely different. Helping someone just because you want to appear a certain way to them and others taxes your time and is disingenuous. It’s much easier and much less stressful to be honest with them, and use your precious time the way you choose to.
Obligations are one of several components that comprise the substance I call mental clutter. It’s trickier to get rid of than clutter in the physical realm because we can’t see it until we make an effort to be more mindful of it. Getting rid of it has the same freeing effects: more time, more energy, and room to breathe. So stop picking up the slack for others and spend that time creating, traveling, hiking, running, knitting, reading, partying, reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.
Ah, the never-ending search for portability that is essentially the traveler’s quest for the Holy Grail in whatever aspect of the mobile lifestyle that can be made more practical. And this week, I’m talking about networking. Someone said that a journey is best measured in friends, but…how do you keep in touch? Simple: business cards. But not just any business cards, we’re talking about something for the traveler, something so stylish that it could rival even Paul Allen’s card. We’re talking about MOO Minicards.
We’ve all been there. The point in the conversation where we discover that this person is actually worth talking to again, whether for business or for pleasure. Then the inevitable scramble for pen and paper ensues, and the “hold on wait for it ok go hold on can you repeat that” dance with the phone is not that much better. What with your phone, wallet, and keys already occupying so much pocket real estate, the traditional business card/holder isn’t that practical for us minimalists.
Enter these sexy, high-quality cards from MOO that are only half the size of the traditional card. The fact that they are smaller already makes you stand out in a crowd. It sends the message that, “Hey, I know exactly who I am and what I do; this is all the space I need to tell you about it.” It sends a subliminal message of confidence and boldness that could very well separate you from the chaff of several others clamoring for this hypothetical prospect’s business.
In addition to the sheer novelty of the smaller size, MOO Printing offers a ton of room for customization. Either peruse MOO’s own designs (quite attractive, I might add) or upload your own. The coolest part is this newfangled thing MOO has developed called Printfinity, which allows you to upload up to 100 different designs for the backs of your cards. That’s a lot! Not only are you handing out your contact info, but if you’re a designer, photographer, chef, what have you, you’re handing out samples of your work, and that can make all the difference.
What really sets MOO apart from all the other web-to-print operations out there are the custom accessories they make for their custom products. There are three Minicard holders to choose from, each with a completely different style, ensuring that the presentation is just as unique as the card. Now if they could only get them to make that cool -SHWINK- sound like in American Psycho.
As I’ve mentioned before, the company I’m buying from is almost as important as the product itself. MOO gets it right in almost every way. They’re innovative in that most of their operations are based on proprietary technology and processes. They use recycled content or paper from sustainably sourced forests and still make it look like a million bucks. And when it finally gets to your door, MOO’s packaging is executed so beautifully that it’s a sin to toss it, nor should you, because they’ve made it multifunctional. On top of that, MOO is extremely transparent. Well played, MOO, well played.