Posts tagged 'self-improvement'
Meditating comes with an interesting side effect: When you’re sitting still and observing your own thoughts, you slowly start to appreciate how weird and quirky your mind actually is. That can be scary at times—for instance, you realize how little control “you” ultimately have over what’s going on in there. But it can also be highly instructive. One interesting thing I’ve come to notice, during as well as outside of formal meditation sessions, is how much the degree to which I feel “fidgety” varies from day to day and even from one situation to the next.
I have referred to my meditation practice a few times now, but I realize that I never actually explained what I even mean by that. So, what is it that I do when I say I meditate? Why do I do it in the first place? And is it really worth the hassle? First, let me clarify what meditation, to me, is certainly not: It’s not “sitting around and thinking hard about a problem”—even though the term is frequently used in that sense in everyday language.
More than a year ago, I published this blog post about my daily routine. Since then I’ve received a lot of feedback, ranging from curiosity to mild encouragement to raised eyebrows. In essence though, the comments most people brought up boil down to three things: “This kind of lifestyle seems dull / repetitive / strenuous / masochistic. How do you find any joy in that?” “Isn’t it all just a fluke?
At first it struck me as an exaggeration when James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, wrote the following in one of his recent newsletters: “Most big, deeply satisfying accomplishments in life take at least five years to achieve. This can include building a business, cultivating a loving relationship, writing a book, getting in the best shape of your life, raising a family, and more.” Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
Peak Mind by Amishi P. Jha. We’re all distracted, all of the time. More and more studies show that on average, we spend only 50% of our waking hours engaged with the present moment—the other half of the time we’re zoning out, ruminating, mind-wandering or daydreaming. Furthermore, research suggests that our ability to pay attention is on the decline. And why wouldn’t it be, given the increasing pace at which we’re assaulted by social media notifications, breaking news alerts, and instant messages.
Frankly, I didn’t have the best of weeks this week. I found myself questioning my self-worth based on perceptions of having fallen short of certain achievements. It’s pointless to judge yourself solely by outcomes of course, particularly those that aren’t entirely under your own control–as the Stoics would put it. But to understand that basic principle is one thing, while applying it in everyday life is quite something different.
Getting people–others or ourselves–to do something that’s not obviously pleasurable is immensely tricky. Never mind if you want to start an exercise routine, eat healthier, or motivate someone to get their Covid-19 shot, the underlying challenge is always the same: In the short-term, it’s easier, less painful, or more convenient to simply avoid doing the “right” thing. So what can we do, in spite of that bias towards immediate gratification, to overcome the mind’s inbred inertia?
“Where’s the fun in that?”, many people asked after I had published my daily routine. Often, the question seemed borne not purely out of curiosity or interest, but rather inspired by pity, or even concern about my wellbeing. Doesn’t so much rigidity and discipline grind one down? Am I renouncing all of life’s pleasures? Doesn’t all work and no play make Jack a dull boy? How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
It’s 4:15am when my alarm goes off. I get out of bed immediately, without snoozing. Before I know what’s happening, I’m already in my running gear, and with a sip of water I’m out of the door no later than 4:25am. I run for 60 to 120 minutes, covering between ten and twenty kilometers. When I get back, it’s time for breakfast: Usually, oatmeal and a banana to refill the carbs I’ve burnt, together with a big glass of water to rehydrate.
That tiny moment between sleep and wakefulness is a fascinating thing: Your mind hasn't quite caught up with reality yet, but it already tries to make sense of what's going on. When something feels even a little bit off during those split seconds, that can be a frightening experience: The light comes in from the wrong direction. The air is too humid. The touch of the bedspread seems unfamiliar.
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. My Journey to Lhasa by Alexandra David-Néel. I’m not sure why, but over the last few weeks I rediscovered a passion for adventure literature. Re-reading Heinrich Harrer’s “Seven Years in Tibet” led me down the rabbit-hole towards lesser known, but no less epic, tales such as Alexandra David-Néel’s “Journey to Lhasa”. Right now, I’m halfway through “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”, which details the horrors of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and just when their ship finally gets crushed and the crew is forced to flee into the freezing wilderness of Antarctica, the central heating in my house breaks down.
It’s a particularly unnerving aspect of the human condition that we’re longing the most for the things we don’t—or can’t—have at the moment. As of this writing, I’m sitting comfortably in a warm house, wearing decent clothes, am well fed and somewhat relaxed. Still I get the feeling that I’d enjoy nothing more than being outside in the blistering cold of this foggy December morning, pushing my body to physical exhaustion by running for an hour or two, only to arrive at where I started.
Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. Recently I read Richard Rumelt's business classic Good Strategy / Bad Strategy which, beside clarifying what strategy actually is and why any organization would benefit from having one, offers many insightful stories and anecdotes on economics. One I found particularly amusing was about Andrew Carnegie, who was arguably the most successful business man of his day, being ranked the richest American for several years at the beginning of the 20th century.
People say that life is short, but that’s not true. Life isn’t short, it’s long. In fact, it’s the longest thing we ever experience first hand. We only perceive life as short because we don’t make the best use of the time we have. It has become all too easy nowadays to waste away an entire lifetime with distractions like TV or social media. All the while we subconsciously hope that some day, by some miracle, a more satisfying future will roll around in which we will be… happy.