Life & Philosophy

Running to safety

Acceptance precedes change, the self-help books proclaim. One can’t advance unless they agree with their current state.

Similarly, uncertainty boils with anticipation. The only way to calm the nerves is to take action that scratches the itch. Doing instead of wondering is a litmus test for hope.

Both acceptance and initiative can make us feel more alive. The trick is to learn when to accelerate and when to dip.

Trapped inside of fear, unable to inhabit our own experience — the last thing we should do is run away and let pass opportunity by.

Productivity & Work

Ready, rock steady

gif via Reddit

The more you work the more you make, at least it appears that way. But Søren Kierkegaard thought wiser:

“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.”

Søren Kierkegaard

Henry Miller also disdained to overwork:

“I’ve found that it isn’t necessary to work that much. It’s bad, in fact. You drain the reservoir.”

Henry Miller

More work may beget more money but also creates more stress, which may negatively impact productivity. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break or a vacation and letting the mind run on its own.

Even during those dull moments your mind is working, jettisoning the bad ideas and retaining the good ones much like a washing machine. This process intensifies during sleep.

Pace your work. Focus and relax once in a while and allow the brain to sort out the connections. Slow and steady wins the race.

Life & Philosophy Psychology

The backlash of presence


If you’re like me, you have a love and hate relationship with the mindfulness practice. It only seems to work when you’re actually doing it, at home in your chair far away from the chaos of life. The rest of your time you’re trying to install this moment-by-moment awareness into your real life to no avail. It’s both frustrating and hilarious.

The author of America the Anxious Ruth Whippman sums up the insidiousness of mindfulness in a recent op-ed in the New York Times:

“Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s actually adding to them. It’s a special circle of self-improvement hell, striving not just for a Pinterest-worthy home, but a Pinterest-worthy mind.”

There are some benefits of meditation–it calls attention to our lack of focus. We’re all so easily distractable in the smartphone age. Instead of acting smug about inner-noticing and our failure of presence, perhaps the quickest path to emotional calm is to stop trying so hard to be here now in the first place.

“This is a kind of neo-liberalism of the emotions, in which happiness is seen not as a response to our circumstances but as a result of our own individual mental effort, a reward for the deserving. The problem is not your sky-high rent or meager paycheck, your cheating spouse or unfair boss or teetering pile of dirty dishes. The problem is you.”

Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Why silence is golden

silence the mind
Silence the mind

“Silence is a great canvass for your thoughts,” entrepreneur and musician/author Derek Sivers proclaimed. He’s right. But to understand why, we need to go deeper.

Serenity now 

We live in a world of external distractions, more annoying than the incessant ringing of our phones. According to a 2013 study, children who grow up near airports or noisy urban areas can become immune to stress-inducing sounds, impairing their ability to detect speech in conversation. Says Cornell university researcher Gary W. Evans, spearheading the study:

“even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans”

In another study, silence has shown to more effective at releasing tension than relaxing to soothing music. In fact, silence does more than release stress and tension-it literally regrows neurons. No wonder mindfulness meditation is all the rage!

Silence is golden

Silence can rewire your brain and liberate our unconscious, stoking the imagination. We can paint the silence with our thoughts and tap into the creative parts of our brain.

“As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Throw in some earplugs and quiet the mind so the soul can speak. Shhhhhh.

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think


Productivity & Work

Creatures of habit

Some of this may sound familiar:

  • Waking up at 6:30 every morning
  • Wearing the attire laid out the night before
  • Repeating the same motivational mantras in front of the bathroom mirror every morning

The benefits of establishing diurnal habits is the pre-planned automation that puts the body in motion before your mind. As a result, you don’t have to think, which saves brain space for other stuff like work priorities.

The drawbacks for habits, even the stuff you don’t want to think about, is that these things lose meaning over time. You’re doing them without questioning their utility in the first place.

Daily routines are meant to be switched up. You may wake up 10 minutes later or earlier. You may decide what to wear in the morning. You may want to choose a new set of mantras to motivate you, or none at all so you can just live.

We are rhythmic creatures

Change is good. Change often to keep the mind fresh from repetition. Mix it up every once in a while in order to stay awake.


More Reflection, Less Action

Instead, we too often view the opposite of “doing” as “not doing,” and then demonize inaction. In fact, good judgment grows out of reflection, and reflection requires the sort of quiet time that gets crowded out by the next demand.

Don’t mistake inactivity for laziness, for doing nothing could also be deep thinking, or sleeping for that matter.  Clarity emerges from an over-connected mind trying to be blank.

Sometimes the mind needs nothing other to do than to rest.


Breathing In vs. Spacing Out

The trick is knowing when mindfulness is called for and when it’s not. “When you’re staring out the window, you may well be coming up with your next great idea,” he said. “But you’re not paying attention to the teacher. So the challenge is finding the balance between mindfulness and mind wandering. If you’re driving in a difficult situation, if you’re operating machinery, if you’re having a conversation, it’s useful to hold that focus. But that could be taken to an extreme, where one always holds their attention in the present and never lets it wander.”

Epiphanies emerge when you let your mind wander.  But mind wandering also gets in the way of learning and getting stuff done.  You just need to be able to dream and focus when you need to. 

Productivity & Work Psychology

Mindfulness gets its share of attention

“What’s work, what’s not work, it’s all become blurred.”

Sure has, we’re always on, always working, especially if your phone is also your work phone. You’re a touch away from answering an email.

“Not only do I put fewer things on my to-list but I actually get them done and done well. It’s like I’ve learned that to be more successful and accomplish more, I must first slow down.”

Single-tasking in today’s wired world is the only way to focus. Tim Ferriss recommends to make a list in the morning of the things bothering you and try to only do those things. Everything else just takes care of itself.


Doing Nothing

Try 20 minutes a day nothing daily. Try. You’ll find that urge to do is poking at you; that email to write, the sports score to check, the inclination to respond to a text right after it’s received.

We are compulsive doers, never bored because there’s always something to check online.

The only way to empty the brain is to do absolutely nothing for 20 minutes. This means remaining awake (not sleeping) and simply trying to resist the urge to do.

Mediation is one way to do this. Another way is to go on a walk without your phone. Or you could sit still in a chair for 20 minutes with no technology nearby.

The whole point of these exercises is to get your natural mind back, the mind we had before the state of constant interruption and entertainment.

A decade ago, an empty brain may have meant that you were bored, goalless. Today, the challenge is turning off a brain full of small, addictive tasks that mean nothing.

Either do nothing and rewire your brain or do nothing in a state of constant updates where you end up where you started.


Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It

I just finished Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikat.  

It’s a must read for anyone looking to refuel or renew the mind to happiness.  But like anything in life, there are no shortcuts to achieve it.  It takes work.  

“I love myself, I love myself, I love myself.”  x100 

Kamal makes it clear that repeating “I love myself” takes dedicated daily practice.  It takes time to feel the world change in your favor.  He makes a strong point to continue practicing inner love to prevent a return of old frustrations.  

His habit reminds us that the brain is elastic, our neurology can change if we want it to.  It’s just a matter of keeping our mind’s attention on the right things.  

If your life is in the dump, give this book a read.  The meditation tips alone are worth the 99 cents.  It only takes a 45 minute train ride home to finish.     

Here’s a list of some my favorite quotes:  

Loving yourself, perhaps the most important of all, is a practice. 

The truth is to love yourself with the same intensity you would use to pull yourself up if you were hanging off a cliff with your fingers. 

each moment I am conscious, I make the decision I LOVE MYSELF.

In all honesty, in the beginning, I didn’t believe that I loved myself.  How many of us do?  But it didn’t matter what I believed.  All that mattered was doing it and I did it the simplest way I could think, by focusing on one thought again and again and again and again until it was more on my mind than not.

As you love yourself, life loves you back.  I don’t think it has a choice either.  I can’t explain how it works, but I know it to be true. 

When you find yourself using the word “magical” to describe your life, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

If you have to build up to it, that’s ok.  The practice works in a way the mind is designed to function.  The mind has no choice but to adapt and respond.  Just remain open to the possibility of loving yourself.  The rest is easy.

Inhale: I love myself.   Exhale: Breathe out what comes up.

Just like love, the subconscious has a positive association with light.  Plants grow towards the light.  As human beings, we crave light.  We find sunrises and sunsets and a bright moon beautiful and calming.  

All I have to do is give it the image – in this case, light; give it the thought – in this case, loving myself.  It does the rest.

(When your attention wanders, notice it and smile.  Smile at it as if it’s a child doing what a child does.  And with that smile, return to your breath.  Step 4, step 5.  Mind wanders, notice, smile kindly, return to step 4, step 5).

It gently shifts your focus from wherever you are – whether it’s anger or pain or fear, any form of darkness – to where you want to be.  And that is love.  You mind and life have no choice but to follow.

Side note, maybe Richard Simmons had a point when he said, “love yourself and win.”