My 6 most popular posts thus far

“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” ― Dwayne Johnson

With the end of the year approaching rapidly, it’s time for some reflection.

I believe that consistency is one of the most difficult yet valuable aspects of productivity. One of my goals this year was to have 20 posts on this websites before the 31st of December. I’m proud to say that I succeeded at that!

I have some more ambitious goals for next year―more on that later―but for now I’d like to share, once more, 6 of the posts that got the most attention.

 

My 6 most popular posts

 

To grieve

On grief and what it’s like to live surrounded by it.

To grieve

 

4 lessons learned from my obsessive flirt with Mixed Martial Arts

On my experiences with MMA and what I learned from them.

4 lessons learned from my obsessive flirt with Mixed Martial Arts

 


5 useful tips for improving your daily routine

On habits and how to effectively implement them into your life, the smart way.

5 useful tips for improving your daily routine

 

Walk The Path, Any path

On what I consider a recipe to a good life.

Walk the path, any path

 

If I can do it, you can too

On what I consider to be one of the most dangerous sayings.

If I can do it then you can too

 

My 5 favorite books of 2016

Some solid book recommendations.

My 5 favorite books of 2016

 

Hope you enjoy them (again)!

An atheist’s prayer

“What I’m asking you to entertain is that there is nothing we need to believe on insufficient evidence in order to have deeply ethical and spiritual lives.”  ― Sam Harris

I wrote this prayer a long time ago but I thought it was worth sharing once more. I used to read this out loud every morning and felt that it was a good reminder of some of my values. Enjoy!

 

An Atheist’s Prayer

Dear day,

I will cherish you and treat you with presence, love, respect and a sense of scarcity.

Every moment will be given my utmost attention. I will see through the child’s eye, feed my natural interest and see only those who are in my field of vision.

I will be light in judgment, quick a forgiver, strong in morals and gentle a critic. For every finger that I point at another, I have three pointing back.

I shall be humble for I was given all that I am. We all have a part to play in this world, however good or bad, and my part is in no way more important than that of another. As such, I won’t refrain from sharing my work and myself with another person for egotistical reasons such as pride or perfectionism.

I am grateful for all that I have, my friends and family, my talents and innate abilities, all the chances I am given, my health and my freedom.

I will learn from mistakes without error and be open to learn from anyone. As a student of life, every person serves as a potential mentor.

I will treat myself with love and tenderness, and my body like a temple. And, as a consequence, I shall radiate this love to others and treat them with the same level of kindness.

Lastly, I wish happiness to the depressed, light to those in darkness, health to the ailing, and freedom to the confined mind.

Amen.

4 lessons learned from my obsessive flirt with Mixed Martial Arts

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” ― Bruce Lee

Numbness… My body feels empty and my mind is blank. There is no will to fight and no strength left to resist. There is no fear of being punched; the pain does not faze me but, at the same time, this absence of fear prevents me from striking back. I’m pretending to fight while I don’t, not really. This match was lost before it even started.

I am supposed to be this talented kid, the first to arrive at the gym and the last one to leave. How did I become someone who loses on mentality?

November 2009. I am 16 years old, peaking physically and had just experienced one of the greatest experiences of my life: winning my first Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight convincingly. There is something really pure about fighting, it makes one feel very masculine and powerful. Fighting made me feel alive in a way that nothing else could. The danger this poses is similar to that of drugs: you may end up dependent on a thrill that makes normal life seem dull in comparison. That’s what happened to me.

It all got very serious when I was offered a 5000 dollar contract for an international 3-fight tournament and confidently accepted my second fight ever: a professional bout against a man who was about 5 kg heavier and 10 years my senior. I remember walking up the stage, hundreds of people cheering. I felt like a god, a prodigy of MMA; I was doing things that people in school could not even dream about. And then… I lost.

This was a very humbling experience and brought me into a downfall that I couldn’t recover from. I didn’t give myself any processing time and resumed my heavy training regimen immediately. Within the next 6 months I became increasingly over-trained, a state that I tried to cope with for about a year before finally deciding to quit martial arts for a longer period of time.

It felt like dying, but in retrospect it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This experience triggered me to discover more about myself, which led me on a path of several other worthwhile pursuits. It was one of those experiences that taught me an incredible amount about life and myself. In this article, I’d like to share some of those lessons.

 

#1 Build confidence by having positive reference experiences

“The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.” ― Bruce Lee

Had I only understood this when I was fighting, it might have changed everything. I shot for the moon and missed. Well, maybe I should have shot for walking out of the door first and, I don’t know, inspect the rocket’s launching site or something.

There is absolutely no reason to ever severely over-challenge yourself. It’s far better to slowly increase the difficulty and get accustomed to it. Even if you did manage to pull it off and you are now officially on the moon, would you even know what to do there? You didn’t even bring a space suit bro.

It sounds silly but I’m very serious about this. Say that you did win and people now have all these high expectations of you, even though it’s way too early for that—would that actually benefit your career? I don’t think so. It’s short-term thinking, not a feasible long-term strategy. Thinking big isn’t about aiming for the moon. It’s about taking comfortable steps forward with the occasional leap.

 

#2 Find and maintain your equilibrium

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” ― Bruce Lee

You may extend the limits of this equilibrium quite a bit, but you cannot simply ignore the physical limits of your body and mind. Particularly when you are a high performer it’s imperative that you familiarize yourself with your mental and bodily signals, and know when to cut back and when to push through.

Meditation and yoga are practices that I believe can really help you with this. For example, in a typical session of meditative Hatha yoga you spend >45 minutes slowly going in and out of certain positions while attending to your physical limitations and respecting them. The beauty of this is that, at a certain point, your mental patterns become apparent.

You may notice a tendency to give up when a position gets tough, or you might notice some harsh self-talk when you’re not able to get into a certain position, or perhaps you feel an impulse to push a little harder when the going gets tough, which is something that I frequently noticed in myself.

Note that none of these patterns are inherently good or bad, they are just part of the experience. Simply recognizing them and observing how they influence you in such a simple isometric hold, can potentially teach you a lot about how you deal with stresses in real life. Which, in turn, makes you better equipped to deal with such stresses and make informed decisions about what to do and what not to do.

 

#3 Question your motivations

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” ― Bruce Lee

Ask yourself: are you someone who is truly willing to sacrifice everything for a single pursuit? The answer to this question isn’t trivial. It takes a particular kind of person to go all-in, and to be honest, I’m not sure whether I am such a person.

I see myself more as a generalist. I have wide-ranging interests, which is why I write these blogs, pursue education in Computational Science and Neuroscience, work as a freelance personal trainer, meditate, practice a wide variety of sports, practice the guitar daily and try to meet lots of different people.

I consider myself to be only average at all of these things, yet this does not matter! It’s about the things themselves and the enjoyment I get out of them. That does not mean I don’t take my training or learning seriously, because I do. But the value of it isn’t usually weighted against the level of the best people in those specific fields; it’s just me, improving perpetually, hopefully touching the lives of people in some way.

Nevertheless, I feel like I have unique value to add to each of these fields. Lots of skills, such as writing, scientific reasoning, effective communication and efficient learning are highly transferable. And I believe that it ultimately is skills like these that will equip your mind for addressing problems in several different fields, something that is likely beneficial to creative innovation, for example. Hence, I personally strive to be more like a Benjamin Franklin than an extreme specialist. It suits me better.

So when a singular activity becomes all-consuming, question it! Is this something you actually want to give up several aspects of your life for? Conversely, if you feel a pull towards something but you’ve not been spending enough time on it, maybe you need to converge your attention into that direction. Why do you do the things you do?

 

#4 Confront your shame

“Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” ― Bruce Lee

The truth is, I never was as impressive at fighting as I desperately wanted to be. I made the mistake of dreaming way too far ahead and identifying with that crystal ball image to such an extend that the tough road still ahead of me became increasingly gloom. (For more on this topic, read Ego is The Enemy.)

Even years after quitting MMA, I would still occasionally dream of having a fighting-record of 20 wins and 0 losses. Back then I thought those numbers said so much about me. I was ashamed that I couldn’t live up to that.

The thing is, people might care somewhat, but not nearly as much as you think. You’re such a tiny spec of another person’s experience. They truly couldn’t care less about my MMA record. They care about how I interact with them and how they feel around me. It took me a while to fully comprehend that.

You see, it doesn’t matter that you’re not as good as people think you are, or perhaps don’t look very fit when you take off your clothes. It does not matter whether you got fired, or that your girlfriend cheated on you. Very few people will actually think less of you. And there you are, worrying about it; such are the tricks of the mind.

Over the years, I’ve often found that things holding me back in my personal journey were related to shame. Things that I may not have been able to admit to even myself. And bringing such things to my awareness and then letting them go, has really made a positive impact on me.

Shame is a perfectly natural emotion, something that we can all relate to. And shame is mostly harmless, as long as we allow it to be there, out in the open. Yet the avoidance of shame is toxic. It can lead to anger and violence, avoidance of situations and people, and truly take over parts of your life if you let it.

The answer, of course, is to let shame be: “yep, this is how it is, you heard that exactly right.” Beautiful, isn’t it? No apologies, no regrets. And when doing that, you find that you’ve been fooling yourself all along. For it wasn’t so bad, was it?

People didn’t care nearly as much as you’d have thought. The worst-case scenario is that they just shrug their shoulders and get on with their day, but who knows? You may have just become more intimate with another person, and perhaps they have something they’d like to get off their chest as well.

Something that has really helped me throughout this process is participating in men’s groups. There is nothing quite like having a circle of brothers around you as you speak aloud the things that frighten and shame you, and receive unconditional love, attention and recognition in return.

Of course this isn’t limited to guys, nor is it limited to groups. You can share your shame with your partner, a family member, a good friend, or even someone who’s new in your life. In fact, you don’t even have to have anyone around. Just admit to yourself whatever you’ve been avoiding. It might make all the difference.

Release yourself from those chains. I’ve noticed that with shame, simply putting my finger on it and giving it some room to breathe, is often enough to make it magnitudes less powerful. Try it. You’ll likely find that you have more in common with the rest of the world than you might think.

So, these were some of the lessons I’ve learned from fighting MMA. I still love watching the sport, teaching the techniques, occasionally practicing it and talking about it, but it’s not something I would likely ever get seriously into again. Still, I love the part that it has played in my life and I would recommend anyone who enjoys challenging themselves to at least try a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or (kick)boxing class sometime. It may impact your life as it has mine. Osu!

How certain can we be?

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

When can we say that we truly know something?

For the majority of our existence, humankind has not actually known how to answer this question satisfactorily. We were asked to believe things, often we were even forced to believe them. But we never quite figured out how to separate the wheat from the chaff until we discovered the scientific method.

 

The scientific method

Science is what brought us out from under the clouded sky of false certainty. It ended the dark ages and started shifting us away from the paradigm of religions. The universe opened up all of the sudden. Science gave us the freedom to wonder about things that, until then, were thought of as ‘understood’ while, in fact, they weren’t.

The power of science is perfectly illustrated in Yuval Noah Harari’s wonderful book Sapiens, which attributes Europe becoming the world’s center of power in the early modern period to its scientific thinking and behaving. European imperialism, for example, was made possible by a drive for discovery at a time when other empires assumed they already understood the world.

The scientific method is extremely simple: we come up with some theory of how the world works. We then formulate a hypothesis or prediction based on this theory, manipulate something in the (real or simulated) world, and observe the effects of our manipulations. Finally, we express how strong these effects were, how certain we are of them (i.e. to what extend we can expect these effects to always occur) and whether we can generalize them to fit our theory. For the latter, we typically need much more than one set of experiments.

An important thing to note here is that we never actually prove a hypothesis. We can only try our absolute best to disprove it and then say something about how hard we’ve tried. If we try hard to disprove hypotheses that fit our theory and repeatedly fail at that, we grow more confident about our theory.

Thus a scientific theory may become a practically useful form of ‘truth’. And no matter the metaphysical arguments one might come up with against this definition of truth, when a theory can put us on the moon, it at least is true enough for practical applications.

Now, of course, mistakes are made along the way. We’re all human. But that’s the whole thing about real science: pointing out mistakes is applauded! We are in this boat together, trying to disprove everything and hoping to find something that remains standing despite our best efforts.

In science, discussion is considered useful and not “a lack of faith”. This is highly beneficial if we want to make valid claims about how the world works. Coming up with ideas and debating them is extremely important. Because if we know one thing for certain, it’s that we humans are easily fooled by our sense.

 

Why it took us so long to discover Evolution Theory

Darwin’s Evolution Theory is a prime example of a beautiful scientific theory that we are really certain about. In his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins talks about how it took us surprisingly long to uncover the basis of evolution: natural selection, and how its discovery was likely blocked by a (Platonian) essentialist tendency that resides in all of us.

We are simply easily fooled by our senses. We know rabbits as they  currently are, so we assume there must be some kind of ‘average’ rabbit from which all rabbits grow. However, it isn’t so simple. This bell-shaped curve we imagine with our average rabbit at its center, is on an ever-evolving continuum. The average rabbit of today isn’t the same as the one of 10.000 years ago. And if we go back far enough, there is a common ancestor, which may not look like anything we even know today but still exists, connecting every species to every other species.

Obviously this is not something we can actually observe, and it’s inferred from the theory of evolution. But the evidence for it is overwhelming. We have tried to disprove the theory of evolution many, many times and failed. That’s how we know that, at least to some extend, we can consider it to be true.

 

Problems with the applications of science

So why am I talking about this?

Well, because I think that science is the only true means we have of debating truth. And the above exemplifies how laborious it is to be able to say whether we can consider something to be true or not.

Science is not something we can always easily use, you see. It works really well on relatively simple systems but for more complex systems (with many, many unpredictable variables such as social systems) it becomes increasingly difficult and usually less exact.

And so science is abused a lot. Popular “scientific” books are written on topics such as nutrition and behaviour, where they cherry pick results and use single studies (that have not even really tried hard to disprove a theory) to make their point.

This is why we have books making “scientific” claims about western meat consumption causing a cancer epidemic, while other books claim that vegetarian food is unnatural and is therefore, in fact, the ultimate cause of an increase in cancer patients.

The problem here is that it’s now completely unclear what we can and should believe. Do we still trust science? It leads many people to believe that science is useless and that, for example, global warming is not real despite overwhelming evidence.

 

False certainty in today’s world

In today’s era of fake news and Internet bogus, it’s as important as ever (perhaps more) that we ask ourselves how certain we are about things.

I know many people who, when reading a news-head that starts with “scientists say,” abandon all skepticism and just accept the content as true. Yet, for each such person I know another who does not trust science at all, who points out all the controversy and just has his own truth to believe in.

I think both these groups of people are completely wrong but, in a way, they are both also a little bit right. I believe science is the only way through which we can objectively approach truth. However, that does not mean that science is not messy business. Science is never the actual truth, which we should already know because it does not claim to be. It’s just the closest thing to it.

We should also realise that what newspapers and popular books write about science isn’t the same thing as a scientific paper, which includes nuances and puts the experimental results in a broader context. Many non-scientific sources create an illusion of certainty. Sometimes they overvalue science, sometimes they ignore it completely. Either case is wrong.

If you really want to understand what’s going on, you will probably need to dive into the material yourself and understand some basics about the field you are reading about. This is something I would recommend to anyone who feels like having a productive debate on some matter. It has never been easier to educate yourself on certain fields of science, just look for courses on Coursera or Udemy, or one of the other countless online learning platforms.

 

How certain can we be?

So, how certain can we be? Well, the truth is that in daily matters, we are often not very certain. A lot of social and political issues do not lend themselves to the more rigorous of scientific methods as they are simply too complex or do not involve (currently) testable variables.

That is not to say that we cannot approach such problems scientifically, but it means that in the fields where we perhaps need to be most rigorous and careful, we are often a bit sloppy and overestimate the questionable results we get. I’m not sure why that is.

It’s also important to note that we can only address a matter scientifically when we are able to formulate a testable hypothesis. If we cannot, then science is out of the question. This excludes many questions of morality, such as whether it’s “good” to try this or that.

With that in mind, I think it’s completely valid to, apart from science, rely on people’s expertise in many practical matters. However, we must never confuse the concept of truth with this expertise. That it sounds logical, does not make it true. And that it feels right, does not make it right. Even though logic and intuition may certainly have some place in a political discussion, we must always wonder about testable facts.

And when science isn’t going to help us further solve a problem, we still need scientific skepticism. We need to distinguish expert opinion from scientific truth. It’s the only way for us to have a constructive conversation about any important topic.

 

Safeguarding uncertainty

We must recognise that we don’t know anything for certain, and that we can only know something to be true to a certain degree. This should be reflected in how strongly we believe things. We must exercise our tolerance for uncertainty.

So let’s be uncertain, let’s try to disprove our own beliefs rather than just surmounting evidence for them. Freedom of speech is paramount and we can never allow it to be restricted for whatever reason. Let’s be sceptics, but of the curious kind who want to understand things, not the kind that piss on real evidence in order to feel good about their faulty values.

We don’t all have to be scientists, but we do all need to accept uncertainty and understand what science is and what it isn’t. If we fail at that, we become victims of international media, victims of our newsfeeds, victims of what authorities want us to believe, victims of our own irrational tendencies.

Nearly all of us have access to the tools of educating ourselves. Let’s use them! The internet has made information gathering much easier, yet it has also made us lazy and unfocused. We cannot read a single headline and let that be our go-to opinion from now on. Ignorance is the real issue here, it always has been. So seek to move towards uncertainty, that means reading arguments against your opinions and allowing the opposition to speak their minds. Only then the world can actually move forward.

 

Richard Feynman on science and uncertainty

I would like to end this post with a passage from Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman from the book The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. I also highly recommend that you read this full transcript of Feynman’s Caltech Commencement address in 1974 on Cargo Cult Science.

“It is imperative in science to doubt; it is absolutely necessary, for progress in science, to have uncertainty as a fundamental part of your inner nature. To make progress in understanding, we must remain modest and allow that we do not know. Nothing is certain or proved beyond all doubt. You investigate for curiosity, because it is unknown, not because you know the answer. And as you develop more information in the sciences, it is not that you are finding out the truth, but that you are finding out that this or that is more or less likely.

That is, if we investigate further, we find that the statements of science are not of what is true and what is not true, but statements of what is known to different degrees of certainty… Every one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth.”

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 life. Doing something a certain way increases the probability of doing it like that again. 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 the amount of likes for your newest 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. It also 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 focused 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’d 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 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 self-confidence 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.

Finishing a book can be extremely gratifying and can give you so much in addition to a simple blog post like this one. 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 its parts.

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 optimizing 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 the need for 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!