My average meditation session is far from perfect

My average meditation session is far from perfect

“I haven’t meditated all day. Let me take a few minutes and do myself a favor.”

I check the clock and it reads 2:08 pm.

“I’ll meditate until about 2:20,” I tell myself.

I sit down in the office chair in my bedroom. I close my eyes and sit still. I allow my mind to do whatever it pleases.

A few minutes go by. I think about the gifts I have to wrap. I think about a text I got from my friend that I need to reply to. I think about the desserts I was going to bake for my family tomorrow.

Each time my mind curates one of these thoughts, I take a step back. I acknowledge the thought as it happens.

It’s a meta experience. Looking at thoughts from a third person perspective. But that’s the practice.

My mind continues to wander around. Just like a dog on a lease, I let it go where it may, but never straying too far.

Another idea pops into my head. I follow it. I acknowledge it’s existence. I then let it go as best as I can.

I don’t judge the thoughts that pop into my head. I merely observe that they are there, from a third person perspective, then watch them leave. After a few minutes of this the chatter begins to quiet.

The key is to not react.

As I think this, I imagine how good it would be to get up and stretch. I resist the urge. I acknowledge this thought, but I choose not to react to it.

A few more minutes go by. The chatter dies down further. I feel more at peace.

“This is a good place to stop.” I think to myself.

But I never stop when I think I should. I like to go a few more minutes to challenge myself. I like to push on just a little bit further.

I believe these extra minutes are where the true magic happens. Because I’m resisting the urge to end the session. That is the ultimate example of non-reactivity.

A few more minutes go by.

“Okay, I feel pretty good now. What time is it?”

The clock reads 2:19 pm. Not too shabby.

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Why should anyone care what I think?

Why should anyone care what I think?

Anyone can do what I do.

Everybody knows already knows that.

I don’t want to write about that, everyone’s writing about that.

What am I really contributing?

Is this something that people are even going to read?

These questions occupy my mind when I sit down to write. This is the battle I fight.

It’s time to break free from this mentality. It’s time to steer away from this train of thought.

The thing about most people

You have a message you want to share. It seems obvious to you.

“It’s not like anything I write is actually going to contribute to the world.”

But what if?

What if someone doesn’t read the books that you read?

What if someone doesn’t watch the same videos that you watch?

Most people haven’t experienced the same things as you. Most people haven’t learned the same things as you.

Maybe they didn’t have the time. Maybe they’ve never heard of those books or blogs. Or, maybe they read them, but came away with a completely different perspective.

Writing for one

If you don’t share what you learned, your interpretation of it, and its applicability to the real world, you’re doing the world a disservice.

If you’ve learned something and you understand it, you have an opportunity to teach it to somebody else.

Yesterday I was listening to a  podcast featuring Seth Godin, author, entreprenuer, former VP of Direct Marketing at Yahoo, and creator of Squidoo. I was reminded that I need to visualize who I’m writing for when I do this blog.

One fun trick I use is creating an avatar of my reader. I ask myself:

  • What does the reader enjoys doing?
  • What kind of person are they?
  • What are they trying to accomplish in life?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What are their dreams?
  • What do they fear?

The goal is to get inside this person’s head. I create an avatar – the person that I am communicating to as I write.

Sometimes I take it a step further. I’ll give that avatar a name and a face. I imagine having a conversation with them. What questions are they asking? What should I tell them?

I used this technique while writing this article. The person I’m imagining is a woman named Lauren. She’s in her mid-to-late twenties. She’s an avid reader and enjoys writing. But, she lacks confidence when it comes to sharing her ideas with the world.

Lauren doesn’t feel her ideas are unique. Lauren feels that everything she says has already been said before. And now she’s coming to me seeking advice.

It’s easier to answer to one than to many

This applies to podcasters. This applies to YouTubers. This applies to business owners.

It’s easier to target one person that you know intimately well then it is to target the masses.

Writing for many is a recipe for disaster. When I attempt to write for too many people, I have a tendency to worry that someone somewhere has already read what I’m about to write. And that makes me not want to write.

What is your smallest possible audience?

Seth Godin talks about this as well. He advocates that you find the smallest possible audience, and then please that audience so that they love you.

Often, we get sidetracked when we forget about “smallest possible.” If you make the audience you’re initially serving too big, you will dilute the very thing you set out to make, avoid critical mass, and compromise the magic of what you’re building. You’ll make average stuff for average people instead of something powerful for the few.

Can’t see the forest for the trees

I become self-conscious at times. I don’t want to be a parrot. I don’t want to write something that people already know. This gets me into a mentality that everything that I write has to be 100% original and unique.

I’m too close to myself. Things that seem common and obvious to me may not be as common or obvious to others.

I need to remind myself: my message is unique to someone somewhere. Most people haven’t read the same books as I. Most people haven’t watched the same videos and documentaries as I. Most people haven’t listened to the same podcasts as I.

Try if for yourself

If you have trouble sharing your ideas because you feel like they are not unique, try out the techniques in this article.

Focus on your audience of one.

Think of a person who could use your unique perspective.  

Think of someone who hasn’t learned the same things you have.

Then create something for them.

Have you ever experienced this feeling when you sit down to write? What do you do to deal with it? What other advice would you give others to overcome this feeling?

I am lucky

I am lucky

I would be insulted if you called me lucky two years ago.

After all, I worked my ass off to get to where I am today. That’s not luck. I created this reality I live in.

Or so I thought.

I realized something a few months ago. Luck isn’t about winning the lottery. Being called lucky isn’t an insult. It’s the truth. After reflection, I am very lucky.

I was born in the right country to the right parents. Everything I have experienced has brought me to where I am today.

I almost drowned in family friend’s pool when I was 3 years old. But I didn’t. I was saved by my neighbor’s friend. I could be dead. But I’m not.

I have a natural drive to work hard. I’m self-motivated. I always wanted to do that best I could. I can’t describe what gave me this internal drive at a young age.

It wasn’t something that I learned from a book. There was a moment or series of moments that shaped me into becoming that type of person.

Maybe it was my mom, who started teaching me when I was 3 or 4 years old.

Or, maybe a teacher help change the trajectory of my life.

Or maybe it was my three siblings influenced me.

All I know is that if you change one of those inputs, the output or my life would be different today.

 

One Example

Bill Gates is brilliant. He’s ambitious. He took advantage of the opportunities he saw early in his life.

Bill Gates is also lucky.

He attended Lakeside, a private school in Seattle. A private school with a computer. Not just any computer, but a brand new, top of the line computer.

The Lakeside’s Mother’s Club had a rummage sale every year to raise money for the school. And instead of just funding the budget, they always would fund something kind of new and interesting in addition. And without too much understanding, they decided having a computer terminal at the school would be a novel thing. It was a teletype — upper case only, ten characters a second — and you had to share a phone line to call into a big time-sharing computer that was very expensive.

This was one moment in Gate’s life that put him on the path to revolutionizing the world. Luck played a role in getting him there.

What if one detail and his life changed? What is he attended Public School in Seattle instead of private? What if he not have access to a computer in middle school? Would he have still changed the world?

(Credit to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for this story.)

When comes down to it luck and hard work two sides of the same coin. Here’s how I see it:

Luck + Hard Work = Success

No Luck + Hard Work = A difficult, but fulfilling life (in my opinion)

Luck + No Hard Work = A recipe for disaster (Case in point: lottery winners)

No Luck + No Hard Work = Not much

Being lucky isn’t a bad thing

Bill Gates got lucky. He worked his ass off for years and change the world and process. He took advantage of the luck bequeathed to him.

He leveraged this and used it as a springboard to create one of the most successful companies in the world.

Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the right place with the right amount of effort. Embrace the serendipity around you. Work hard. Follow your curiosities. Go where others haven’t dared to go. Who knows, luck might just find you.

What is one thing that has happened in your life that you would say was “lucky”? How would your life be different had that not happened?

Change your mental state by walking

Change your mental state by walking

I am a habitual walker. Everyone in my office knows that.

Around 7:30 am I get to work. I focus on the task at hand and get into flow until about 10 am. Then I take a break and step out of the office for a short 10 minute walk.

The time isn’t always the same, but one thing remains consistent: I make sure to get in my walk.

At 12 pm I take a break for lunch. After I finish eating I go for another short walk.

Then after another 2-3 hours I go for one last walk during the work day.

No matter where I am working or what is going on, I always find time to go for a walk.

I don’t care how busy things are or how crazy my bosses are, I make every effort I can to go for a walk and get my 10,000 steps in during the day.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have a deadline that I need to hit. Or I’m asked to help assist on another project. And I’ll go longer without taking a break. But I always find time for a walk.

Walking leads to focus

I credit walking with helping me focus better throughout the day. I’m more productive. Not only that, but I feel happier at work.

By the end day, while others are dragging ass and on their 3rd or 4th cup of coffee, I feel refreshed, focused, and as though I could continue working for another few hours if I have to (which I do sometimes).

I credit all of this to going for those short walks throughout the day.

I don’t walk because of the health benefits

I have a hard time sitting still. I like to get up and move. But when you work on the computer all day long, there aren’t many opportunities to this.

Many of my coworkers sit at their desk all day long without ever leaving the office. The only time they get up is to go to the bathroom, pick up something from the printer, or the heat up their lunch in the breakroom.

That’s not me. I need to get up. I need to move.

3 reasons to walk

Walking helps me reevaluate and focus on what matters

When I’m out in nature I focus better. I go out for a walk with thoughts or questions to ponder in my subconscious mind. When I go back to work, the answer I’ve been seeking suddenly comes to me.

Taking breaks throughout the day and changing the environment that helps my brain make connections that I wouldn’t otherwise make.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you’re thinking about a problem before you go to bed, and then in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning the answer comes to you? That’s what happens when I go out for a walk. Answers seem to appear.

It is meditative

I’ve mentioned this in a prior article, but for me going for a walk can be very calming and meditative.

When I go for a walk I use it as an opportunity to focus and become mindful of the world around me.

When I walk out the door the first thing I notice is the sidewalk and all of the cracks and the plants growing in between some of those cracks.

I look up to the sky and notice if there are clouds. What are they shaped like? Does it look like it will rain today?

I look around at the trees and other features in the landscape around me. There is usually just grass and shrubs. But, every once in a while, there is a beautiful flower or unique looking plant.

Then my mind shifts to the buildings and the cars around me. I think about all of the other people out there. I wonder what they are up to and where they are going.

By the end of my walk, I am mindful and relaxed, just observing the world around me. It’s a great opportunity to reset your brain, recharge, and get ready to put in another few hours of work.

Best of all, walking is natural, easy, and free.

You don’t need a gym membership to go for a walk. You experience half the impact on your bones and joints than if you were to go for a run. And most people are capable of going out for a walk on a regular basis.

In fact, in a study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, regular walkers could actually be healthier than runners.

Risks for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease drop significantly in walkers as compared to runners.

This could be due to the fact that chronic running could lead to over training and inadequate recovery time, which could make you susceptible to overtraining, injury and illness.

In summary

Walking has made me more productive, relaxed, and happier.

Give it a shot! Using a fitness tracker or any number of free apps on your phone, try to get in 10,000 steps per day and see how it affects you.

Do you enjoy going for walks throughout the day? What benefits do you notice when you go for a 20 minute walk?

How are your questions?

How are your questions?

Three months ago my boss came to me and told me that I had to work out of town for a month. I would only be about an hour away, so I could commute if I wanted to.

This was a minor annoyance, but no big deal. I could still sleep in my own bed and go on with my normal routine without too much interruption.

That changed two weeks ago. Due to budget cuts, I wouldn’t be working an hour away. Instead, I would have to drive two hours away to Jacksonville and work there for a month. No way was I commuting now.

When I found out I had to spend a month away from home, I was heated. I was the only person from my office who had to travel away from home this year. And this would be my second time doing it.

Last time I also traveled to Jacksonville, and I was miserable. I was upset I had to spend time away from home. And that was only for two weeks. This time it would be for the entire month.

What’s wrong with me?

I had an observation three and a half weeks ago: the smallest things were setting me off.

I was complaining more. I was playing the victim. I believed everything was outside my locus of control.

So you can imagine how I felt when I was told I needed to go away for a month. I was angry. “Why the f*** do I have to keep doing this? It’s not fair.”

A few days after finding out I would be in Jacksonville I was listening to a Tony Robbins recording.

He talked about how we can’t control everything around us. But what we can control is our perception of the world. In order to change your perceptions, you must change the questions you ask yourself.

When you’re upset or angry or annoyed, don’t list the reasons why a situation sucks. Shift the focus. Ask better questions.

Ask yourself: “what’s good about this?”

The light bulb moment

A couple days later, I was taking my mid-morning walk at work still fuming when the light bulb went off. Right then I shifted the focus. I asked myself, “What’s good about this?”

When I got back to my desk I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote in big, bold letters at the top of the paper “What’s good about having to work in Jacksonville for a month?”

And I began to list things out.

  1. I’ll meet new people.
  2. I can go to new restaurants.
  3. I can check out their breweries.
  4. It won’t get dark until late, so I can explore after work.
  5. I’ll be downtown, and everything is within walking distance.
  6. I’ll challenge myself with new tasks at work.
  7. I’ll be able to go home on the weekends.
  8. All of my meals are paid for.
  9. I’ll break my routine.

All of the sudden, I started to feel better. Instead of being annoyed, I started looking forward to it.

In retrospect, I don’t even know why I was annoyed.

The only thing I really had to be angry about was being outside the comfort of my hometown. Other than that, going to Jacksonville looked like more good than bad.

How is it going so far?

Today is my second day in Jacksonville and I’m enjoying it much more this time around.

I’ve been able to explore more. I’ve gone to new places to eat. I’ve tried new beers.

I’m convinced I would not enjoy myself if I continued with the mindset of being annoyed.

But because I searched for reasons why this would be a good trip, it has thus far turned out to be good.

I reframed the situation by asking “what’s good about this?”

I forced myself to come up with answers to a question I didn’t even previously consider.

A reminder

This serves as a reminder for myself: you are only as good as the quality of questions you ask yourself.

You can use this same technique in a number of situations.

For example, if you’re stuck in traffic tomorrow, ask yourself, “what’s good about this?”

Come up with five reasons why being stuck in traffic is actually a good thing. I tried this the other day and there was a huge difference in how I felt by end of my evening commute.

Next time you’re in a situation that makes you angry, annoyed, or upset, ask yourself, “what’s good about this?”

It may be hard to come up with answers initially. You will want to resist answering. Overcome this resistance, answer the question as best as you can, and see how you feel.

Remember, you’re only as good as the quality of questions that you ask yourself.

Why I don’t tell people what to do anymore

Why I don’t tell people what to do anymore

As you know, I ran a personal finance blog for two years. I created the blog for three reasons: (1) to help people with their finances, (2) to reinforce what I was learning, and (3) to make a living from blogging.

At the start of this blog, I absorbed everything I could on personal finance. I read the classics, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, followed up by Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

I read numerous other books in the following months and had a good grasp on personal finance. I gave advice to anyone who was willing to listen to me.

I would also write 2 posts per week about personal finance topics that I conjured up during the slow work day.

Do THIS, not that

In these posts I would pick an area people struggle with. Then I would tell them what to do.

Save 10% of your income. Open an IRA account. Don’t go into debt. You get the idea…

I felt like an authority. I believed as an authority it was up to me to tell people what to do.

It was all out of the goodness of my heart. Honestly. I didn’t think I was better than anyone. But I expressed what I thought people should do.

This began to trickle into my personal life

I would give advice to my girlfriend. “Do this instead.”

I would give advice to my sister. “Why are you doing it that way? Do it this way.”

I would have arguments with family members. I told them why they were wrong and why they should think about a particular situation differently. I’m not proud of those moments.

I had my view of the world and wanted everyone to conform to that view. Not necessarily in a negative way. It was just how I believed the world should be.

This changed last year

A year ago I became interested Buddhist concepts and philosophies. As I was reading, I came across a quote that stuck with me:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

The Buddha himself essentially told people not to blindly follow what he said. It was his way of saying, try this yourself. If you like it, continue to use it. If not, move on.

And this idea struck a chord. All this time I was telling people what to do, what to think, what to believe.

I had my view of the world and what the right thing to do was. But that wasn’t the right thing to do.

The fault in giving advice

Derek Sivers was interviewed last month on the James Altucher Show. In this podcast, he asked James about how he deals with giving advice.

Derek went on to say that he never knew what to tell someone who came to him seeking advice.

For example, one person wanted to know if they should quit their job to pursue an entrepreneurial venture full-time.

Derek said he wasn’t sure what to tell this person. Should he tell them to quit? Or should he tell them to stick with their current job?

The dilemma caused him to think about the fault in giving advice.

Advice is a double-edged sword

Any advice we give to others is based 100% off our personal life experiences. It’s based off the knowledge and actions we have taken throughout our lives. And it may not always be the best advice.

That’s why it’s not useful to tell someone what to do in their life. Especially if you get into a position where people trust your opinion and will do whatever you tell them.

That’s where I could see Derek’s problem. What if he told them to quit their job and dive in full-time and they failed. Would it be his fault? Not really. But I’m sure he would feel pretty bad.

But what if he told them not to quit, and they never get that fire under their ass to turn their venture into something big. Is that also his fault?

I don’t tell anyone what to do, just what I’ve done

From these experiences, I’ve learned that it’s not my place to tell people what to do.

Even in their articles, I do my best to present to you things that I do that work for me, and encourage you to try them out for yourself. But I refrain from telling you what to do.

And this is where I leave it. “This is what I did in this situation. This is the end result. This is how I feel. Try it out yourself.”

I feel better now, not telling others what to do. I merely make suggestions based off my life experience.

Try this out yourself and see how it makes you feel. If you like it, great! If not, that’s okay too.

Do you ever find yourself telling others what to do? Or do you have others in your life who always seem to have advice for every thing? How does it make you feel?

A reminder to be mindful

I want to improve my mindfulness. So I added the following note to the Google Keep app on my phone and set it to send me a reminder every day at 8 am:

Be mindful. Be attentive.

Observe the world around you. Use all of your senses to their fullest capacity.

Use your eyes to observe the world around you. Look for things you’ve never noticed. What do you see?

Listen to the sounds vibrating around you. What do you hear?

Be aware of what you are physically touching and feeling. How does it feel?

Identify any smells or tastes you have. What do you smell? What can you taste?

Enhance your presence and mindfulness by increasing your awareness of all the senses you have been blessed with.

What other reminders can I add to my list to help me to become more mindful?