The Lesson I Learned Today… 140612

You have to make time for yourself.

If you are a workaholic or just passionate about what you do, then there is enough work to fill every minute of every day and there will always be more to do tomorrow.

Speaking to one of my mentors today (Lee; a regional sales manager from the southern states), I was reminded that if I don’t make time for myself, no one will. Further, I am not doing my team any favors by working myself to burnout. If I am burned out, then I am not leading well.

It was extraordinarily difficult but when I came home today, I did not open my laptop until after all my stores closed. I was only “unplugged” for about 4 hours, but it was still difficult.

I am going to need more practice at caring for my own well-being and holding it as sacred as the well-being of my loved ones or my team.

 

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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140611

Daily meditation is like hitting a big reset button.

You know how sometimes your computer or phone becomes slow or has some weird problem that it just can’t shake and you reboot it and suddenly (almost magically) everything works again?

I realized that is what meditation does. It’s the reboot button for our lives. Clearing your mind is like emptying the recycle bin on your computer. It creates space and allows you to declutter. Controlling your breathing is like defragmenting your inner hard drive. It slowly detoxifies your body, one little piece at a time and helps you lose unneeded fragments of thoughts, aches, and emotions.

I can go on with the analogy, but you get the idea. Meditating even a measly 10 minutes a day like I do helps you find clarity and focus. Doing nothing—absolutely nothing other than breathing and staying awake for 10 minutes—allows your body and mind to “reboot”. It helps me make more efficient use of my time and energy throughout the rest of the day.

Daily meditation, ironically, is a time-saver, productivity tool, and easy system reboot for humans being.

There are plenty of videos and websites to give you the basics. If you are not doing a daily reboot, I recommend trying it for a few weeks. Even just one minute a day can have a great impact. I find ten minutes is easy to work into my schedule but go with what works for you and build from there.

Sometimes sitting still is more powerful than running at full speed.

 

 

 

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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140609

Minimalism means being very judicious with the items you let into your life.

There is advertising everywhere for “New, Better, Different!” but we do not have to accept anything more than we need.

By choosing carefully the items I buy, I enjoy a higher quality of life. For example, because I don’t spend money on picture frames and paintings and mostly useless decorative votives around the house, I can afford the vacuum cleaner I really want or a better blender—great trade off in my opinion! I use the vacuum and blender all the time; how often do I actually look at pictures I have already seen thousands of times?

I would rather have fewer, but better, things in my life and put more toward things that really matter to me: food, experiences, mobile technology. I don’t have a $1,000 watch or $500 necklace or $200 pinky ring, but I really love my $700 phone/tablet; it does everything I need to stay connected to the world, including help me create blog posts… oh, and it tells time and can show me pictures of rings and necklaces if I miss them.

Technology might not be your thing. Maybe it’s kayaking or yoga or running. There are TV commercials, billboards, pop-up ads, phone calls, radio spots, and multi-media advertising coming at you all the time, trying to entice you to buy more and more stuff, but it is up to you to run defense and keep your life focused on the things that really matter to you.

Can you develop the skill of consciously ignoring the allure of consumerism to whittle down the clutter in your life? Can you surround yourself with no more than only the 100 or so greatest things you really want, love, and need?

My 3 Minimalism rules:

1. For every new thing I buy, one thing is tossed out or given away (when I started, I had to get rid of three things for every one new thing but it gets a lot harder when you are down to only the things you really desire).

2. If I have not touched it or used it in a year, it gets tossed out or given away. The cost in storage space and cleaning time for hoarding items is often greater than the cost of simply replacing them (if you even notice you miss them). This is especially true of technology which is always updating.

3. If it does not enhance the value or convenience in my life, why do I have it? It must go.

Despite the advertising onslaught we see every day, we do not have to buy any more than we need and we can use the rest of our money on things that really matter to us.

 

 

 

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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140601

Balance comes from opposing forces.

Today in yoga class, we did tree pose. I’m a novice and I have struggled with this pose for a while. It basically requires you to balance on one foot while holding your hands over your head, as the other foot rests on your thigh.

Previously, I could hold the pose for about 10 seconds before I lost balance and had to place my lifted foot down to keep from falling over.

Today, the instructor said a simple thing that transformed everything for me and allowed me to remain standing, balanced, indefinitely. She said, “Engage the muscles of BOTH legs. The thigh of the leg you are standing on should be working against the foot that is resting there.”

By pushing both my thigh and my foot against each other, I found stability in the center.

Of course, this parlays into other areas of life. Sometimes I am out of balance because I am pushing too hard in one direction and forgetting to apply the natural opposing force. I am overweight, for example, because I eat too much but don’t exercise enough. If I exercise too much and forget to take care of my body’s nutrition then I am also in trouble. Same if I work so much I can’t make time for exercise and eating right. Out of balance. Everything suffers.

Find balance by applying the right force in another direction and I bet you will be a lot more satisfied in both directions.

Balance comes from opposing forces.

 

 

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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140531

Spend money on things that matter, but don’t spend too much.

Today, I spent more than a $1,000 in less than 2 hours (it took me a LOT more than 2 hours to make it).

It was money mostly well spent but I know it will cost me more than the physical price of the goods later (so, for example, I get a great outfit now but will I still appreciate it when I realize I haven’t saved enough for a vacation later?).

Know the full cost of your spending. Spend more on the stuff that matters most to you, but don’t spend more than you are willing to pay twice.

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Why You Should Stop Drinking Milk

 

When people ask why I choose a vegan lifestyle, I usually provide a short, uncomplicated answer. I dive deeper if the person seems like they might be wanting or trying to make the same choice. Most curious friends understand I choose not to eat other animals because I do not think it is logical–I have no need to eat them. Other animals do not provide a single vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that I can not find without killing them. Also, it is not interesting or admirable to cause pain on another animal.

Milk really throws people off, though. They understand I do not want to inflict pain on other animals, but often the very next question is, “But drinking milk doesn’t hurt the cow, does it?”

Actually it does, especially with store-bought milk, including organic milk. Many (perhaps, most) people choose to have a willfully ignorant notion that industrialized, factory-farmed, store-bought milk comes from an old, kind farmer who hunkers down next to Bessie the Cow each morning, and gently pulls her teats until he fills a bucket with happy milk. Afterwards, Bessie goes back to grazing in a quiet meadow. We prefer not to acknowledge there is practically no farmer involved any longer. Bessie the Cow is shot full of steroids, hormones, and antibiotics, is cruelly mistreated, fed animal by-products (remember mad cow disease? Guess where it came from…), and is milked by a cold steel pumping system until her teats are raw and she is producing pus. In fact, there is an acceptable amount of pus allowed in milk by the FDA. I guess pus “does a body good“.

It seems odd that most people never pause to consider that cow’s milk is made for a baby cow, not a baby human. Yet, for most people (including me) the thought of a grown person drinking human milk is simply bizarre. Isn’t that odd? It grosses us out more to consider drinking our own milk (which is at least designed for baby humans) than it does to think about stealing the milk from an entirely different species.

If that is not reason enough, there is also the myth about calcium. Some people automatically defend drinking cow’s milk by claiming it is a great source of calcium (a myth entirely perpetuated by the dairy industry, lobbyists, and backers). Here is the truth: milk from a cow (or goat or other animal) is not an especially good source of calcium. Bok Choy and collard greens, for example, not only provide more calcium than milk, but also offer higher absorption rates. Parsley, spinach, and tofu are also great sources of calcium. Sushi is wrapped in Nori, another super source of calcium (and vegetable sushi is outstanding!). Nori, wakame, agar-agar, pretty much any seaweed offers nearly 10 times the amount of calcium found in milk.

 

Living a vegan lifestyle always seems to come down to the same standoff in different versions, for me. The standoff usually looks like me on one side, explaining there is no need for us to kill other animals and eat them (or wear them). We have the technology and the science to understand not only that it is not a good choice, but also why eating other animals is not a good choice (take your pick: logic, reason, compassion, responsibility, avoiding heavily industrialized or processed sort-of animal meat, reducing the risk of global catastrophe via global warming, animals are cute, etc.). On the other side of the debate is usually someone asking the same question, time and time again. It is the same question the religionists, the politicians, the moochers and the looters ask when attempting to enforce their status quo. The question is always this, presented in different ways:  How can I keep getting away with it?

Each time you see vegans lampooned in popular culture, or being made fun of by friends, family, or the media, consider what the people doing the insulting are actually defending and offering as an alternative. I prefer not to live in a culture of murder, pain, and misery just for the sake of poorer health and morally corrupt choices.

Every day, I look forward to when people will think more, question more, and make clear, ethical decisions based on a strong personal philosophy rather than handed-down traditions. I look forward to seeing people stand up and say, “No, that is wrong. Killing animals because I think they will taste good or because it is what everyone else told me I am supposed to do is not a good enough reason to keep killing and eating meat. It is disgusting and immoral to wear the carcass of a dead animal when there are clearly merciful and superior alternatives.”

Until then, the best those people can do is keep eating and killing and wondering why there is so much misery, and keep drinking milk until they one day, finally, accept… it does No Body good.

 

 

If you found this article and it changed your mind (one way or the other), let us know in the comments! Do you think differently about milk now or did I drive you further into the other camp?

 

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Do You Want More Time In Your Day? Try this!

 

We are consumed by what fills the space around us, and we are trained that every space needs to be filled. We buy junk (or if you prefer, mass-produced art, decorative furniture, and trinkets) and hold onto things for sentimental reasons, even if they no longer provide practical use.

Albert Einstein saw Time and Space as inseparable. He referred to them as a singular concept: Space-time (popularized in Star Trek as the “Space-time continuum“). It is easy to see Space and Time are the same thing (or so interwoven as to be indistinguishable) when you consider what happens when you take any action in space, such as walking across a room. When you walk across a room, time passes. When you lift your finger, it takes a moment to do so. It takes time even to blink. When you move through Space, you move through Time.

Unfortunately, we never seem to have enough time (space). We say, “There isn’t enough time in a day” to get everything done. I think the pressure of Time in our lives comes from the pressure of our space being too full.

My living room used to have nearly every niche, nook, and cranny filled. There was furniture, trinkets, pictures, decorations, shoes, a pile of mail on the table (that kept growing), a television, XBox, controllers, video games, stereo system, speakers, TV stand, a cabinet full of DVD’s, CD’s, and games, etc… a lot of “stuff”. All that stuff taking up all that space demanded time and attention–just dusting was an ordeal because there were so many little trinkets and decorations and piles everywhere that I would put off dusting and cleaning (or just dust the open areas around things). Just like molecules become more excited when you force them closer together, my life became busier (and I became more irritated) as more things took up my space (time).

I began a journey to simplify, de-clutter, and edit my life the way I edit my writing. I looked at all the stuff that took up my time and realized I was wasting a lot of my life. I thought of the sculptor Alexandros, who started with a slab of marble and removed every bit that was not the Venus de Milo until all that was left was his vision. I still work to edit my life and remove what is not needed or useful to my day until what is left is what is important.

Steadily, I chip away things that are not contributing to my being the person I want to be.

With my living room, I sorted through movies and tossed out the ones I don’t watch regularly or can rent online (no need to keep a physical copy of anything I can store and back up digitally). I stopped wasting my time playing video games so I could spend more of it experiencing my loved ones. I traded my TV and TV stand for a projector and the wall, and got rid of cable television. I have a couch and a table now; I don’t need much more furniture than that.

There are no pictures on my walls (I never look at them and visitors don’t know the people in them anyway). I traded my stereo system for one nice high-end bluetooth speaker that sits under the projector. As I convert my CD’s to MP3’s, I get rid of the discs. There is one candle and 2 coasters on my table; nothing more is needed. And there is a lot of empty space, of breathing room. I love it, and so do my cats, who use the empty space to romp around (ever notice how children are overjoyed by large, empty spaces? They understand that freedom and space gives us room to run, to play and create).

It feels good when I open the door and walk into a large, uncluttered area. There is not a bunch of stuff demanding my time. It is so easy to dust and keep things clean (saving time). I can clean my entire apartment, top to bottom, in less than an hour. I unsubscribed to every mailing and call list I could find and pay my bills online so I never have to stare at a huge pile of junk paper that will take more space (and time) in a landfill. I only have to check my mail once per week instead of every day. All the things that took up space for the sake of taking it up are no longer demanding my time.

It has been an adjustment and I continue to work to create space but I’ve been doing this a few years now and I have not regretted giving up any of it. It’s great!

Even this blog has become easier to keep up since I started looking at how I could create more space with it. I recently stopped using photographs in my posts. I spent more time finding just the right picture to fit the post than I sometimes did writing it. I pared down the links and removed a full sidebar. When you visit my blog, I want you to feel unhurried, to experience a moment of space-time and stay long enough to enjoy thought-provoking material you can share with others.

I wish employers took the same approach to work–focusing on creating space instead of always filling it. I hope one day I can bring the principle of Creating Space to the workplace and that it will eventually come from the top-down instead of from the bottom-up. I try to apply it as much as I can. For example, when I delegate a new assignment, I try to find something I can take away–this frees my team to focus on what is really important, instead of on things like reporting on what is really important. It encourages creative thinking and flexibility. I have yet to find an organization that says they do not cherish creative thinking and flexibility, yet, I have yet to find an organization that embraces such things as core principles (I have to give a special shout-out to my former ROWE colleagues here for pioneering the first step in the right direction, though–ROWE definitely creates space).

My rule of thumb is (whether looking at furniture or looking at my career) if I have not worn it, touched it, or looked at it in six months, then it must not be that important. I can always buy a new one if throwing it out was a mistake, or go back to reporting on an old metric if it turns out it was needed, but I see no reason to let my apartment or life become a storage facility for mementos. In fact, I am able to live in a much smaller and cheaper space because I don’t come with a lot of baggage (and the money I save contributes to time for me to spend doing things I enjoy in the space of my life!).

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to have more hours in a day. Instead, I challenge you to stop thinking about how to create more time and instead look around your life (everywhere–your house, hobbies, work, car, etc.) and think about how you can create more space.

There is an easy way to create more time in your life and, to me, it is so simple it is profound:

 

Create more   s   p   a   c   e  .

 

Try it. See what happens and let me know about it in the comments if you have some success or if you need help getting started.

 

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Do You Want to Make a Better Living or a Better Life?

My FaceBook and ROWE friend, Charles Harrison Baker, once asked a question I sometimes hear repeated by others, in some variation:

“How can I turn my love of reading, writing, exercise, technology, and computers into a six-figure, or multiple six-figure, income?”

I suggested he was asking the wrong question. I asked what he believed a six-figure income would bring him. He thought about it and summed up his response by noting a large income would allow him to do more things he is interested in.

I replied, “Then maybe the question is, ‘How can I do more things I am interested in?’”

“There is some truth to that,” Charles granted, “But my family must eat. Also, I’ve only one year before my oldest starts college. I’m looking for ways to turn what I enjoy into streams of revenue rather than draining expenses.”

Let’s have a conversation about Money (and by “conversation”, I mean I am going to rant and I hope you will read my rant and possibly leave a comment…).

It is easy to believe money will solve problems instead of create them. Who has not, on occasion, said to himself, “If only I had more money, then I could… (insert daydream here)”?

Money is a tool, like a hammer. If you use a hammer properly, you can do fantastic things with it, like build a house. If, however, you use a hammer the wrong way—to drive marshmallows instead of nails, for instance—then the results will be predictably bad. The catch is, Money is a very complex tool that many of us struggle to understand. Unfortunately, our ignorance is, as in many things, our folly.

How Much is Enough?

Consider the NBA (National Basketball Association) or any other major sports organization. There are athletes who make 6 million dollars per year but leave their winning team to play for a team offering 7 million dollars per year.  Why would an athlete do that, dismissing his loyalty to his home team and his established fans? The answer is because the other team offered 7 million—and that is 1 more than 6. And more means better. Even when you are making 6 million dollars per year—an amount that seems absurdly sufficient for most of us—it does not matter. It is not enough money; the athlete believes since 6 million has not fulfilled him, another million will make a difference, will somehow make him happier or more content.

More money is never a solution, but our social training commands us to believe it is.

Employees live in the same broken paradigm. They believe more money will make their jobs more tolerable. They are right; it will. A salary increase will make an employee feel better about his job for about (and let’s be generous here) six months. Then he will steadily realize he has the same job he did before and the job is as misery-inducing as it ever was.

The reward of money tapers off, so like crack-addicts, we scrabble for the next high; we need more and we need it now. A bigger influx, we think, will do the trick; a larger raise, or a different company offering more cash (but the same miserable job in the same miserable career).

Money can be a fine reward, but it can only be a temporary one. Companies that realize this, win. Companies that do not, fail. They get stuck in the trap of believing the best way to fix a problem is to throw more money at it. Because employees share the same ignorance about money, the system feeds itself, and we have… well, what we have today.

More! More! Less…?

If more money is not the answer, then what is?

I think we should start by asking, “What do I believe money brings me? For what do I secretly think more money is the solution?”

Sometimes I find myself pining for things I believe wealthy people have (that I do not). I really want to own a mansion instead of my 848 square foot home; I also want a couple expensive, fast cars instead of my 2006 pick-up truck, and a winter home in Savannah, Georgia. I want my parents and in-laws to have second homes, too, and to travel internationally as much as they want. That is how my family taught me to know I am doing good in life—by how much excess I have and how much I can pay for other people.

If all those things were true, though—if I had the fast cars, the big house, and the winter getaway—the truth is I would be no happier. In fact, I know I would be more miserable. Does that seem counter-intuitive?

Consider this. When I was 18, I lived with my parents and thought a quarter-pounder combo from McDonalds was about as good a meal as it gets. I owned a beat-up, rusty, very used 1987 Chevy Astro Mini-van. I know… total chick-magnet, right? I would have done anything—anything—to have had the money to move into my own place and own a car I would not have been embarrassed to show up for a date with, and been able to afford to take a date to a restaurant that actually had a  wait staff.

20 years later, at 38, I was a homeowner, my car was less than five years old, I ate only vegan, organic food, dined at nice restaurants, and guess what? I thought my house was too tiny, I didn’t like my neighborhood, I wished I had a Tesla Roadster instead of a Nissan Titan, and every winter I dreamt of visiting my imaginary house in Savannah. Incidentally, if I had the fancy cars and bigger house, no doubt I would have wanted another car, a yacht, and a housekeeper.

It is easy to imagine there is a point at which I would be content, but all I need to do is look around. Even the wealthiest people I know, who seem, to me, to live in a fantasy land… they want MORE. And more. And more. It is never enough. You might be thinking it would be enough for you, but the truth is you have enough already… and it is not enough. If you are an average middle-class American, you live better than nearly 90% of the world. You have clean water—you even have the wealth to buy bottled water in addition to your clean tap water—you  literally have a roof over your head when you sleep, your homestead is likely larger than a 10 x 10 foot room, you have access to medical care, you have enough food that you can casually throw some away, and you have a means of transportation, even if it is a bus or a bicycle.

Tragically, though, we have been conditioned nearly all our lives to keep consuming and disposing. We want things we never even dreamed would exist only 10 years ago. Remember cassette tapes? When you had a cassette player, you wanted a CD Player even though you didn’t know what a CD Player really was, but you knew you had to have one because sound does not get better than with a CD Player. Until MP3 players came out. Then you had to have one of those. Then you needed a phone with an MP3 player built in. Now you need a phone that costs as much as a desktop computer.

The reason lottery winners almost never have happy endings to their stories is because the system is a con. It is designed to train us to be consumers and disposers, and to feed that cycle continuously.

Again, it is never enough… until we say it is.

Beating the System

Here is an idea. Instead of continually scaling up, put your efforts into trying to scale down. Accept that you are wealthy (because you are extraordinarily wealthy compared to the tomato pickers working for Burger King, Taco Bell, and most grocery chains). Rather than trying to accumulate more junk goods, work toward minimizing your consumerism.

Here is my 3-step plan to live happily, wealthily, and wisely:

1. Free yourself from debt.

The bad news is it will probably take four times as long to get out of debt as it did to fall into it (because we are paying for everything four times over, or more), but there are ways to accumulate victories and speed up the process. For example, pay the minimum due on all credit cards except one (the one with the highest interest rate or lowest balance—your pick). On that one card, pay as much as you possibly can each month until it is paid off. Then pretend you are still paying on it and add that amount to the next card with the highest interest or lowest balance, while paying the minimum on the rest, and so on…

2. Stop accumulating.

You do not need more things but no doubt you want them anyway (I know I do). We can make a deal with ourselves, though. For every new item we buy (aside from groceries), something must go. In other words, if I buy a new pair of jeans, I must get rid of a pair of jeans—either to charity or on Ebay, or just in the trash, but something equivalent must go. If you want to be really aggressive, remove two things for every new purchase or gift. For your groceries, shop at smaller, local stores. You will find the prices quite comparable to the big box stores (like Kroger, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc.), but they will have a smaller selection, which will help you scale down. When I shop at a big box store like Target, I find even if I am just there to pick up a roll of toilet paper, I walk out having spent a hundred dollars. When I shop at Trader Joe’s, however, I still buy a week’s worth of groceries but I save about $30 on each trip, because Trader Joe’s does not have everything I want; they just have everything I need. Same for my local hardware store instead of Home Depot or Lowe’s, and same for local or used clothing stores instead of the big chains.

3. Buy experiences instead of products.

This has been the hardest lesson for me because I love gadgets. Instead of spending $4,000 on a new television, though, why not buy the cheapest one that meets your needs (say, for $500)? Save up or use the extra $3,500 to go on a vacation. The feeling you get from the latest episode of Desperate Housewives lasts until the next episode. The feelings and memories from a vacation in the tropics, however, will last your whole life. Which is the better return on investment? This does not apply only to big purchases. Angela and I learned the movie “Inception” was a $42 waste of time, even in 3D, and even at the Imax theater. Not that it was a bad movie, but it was $42 and 2 and a half hours we will never get back. For the same price, we could have spent the entire day at the Science Center, a museum, an amusement park, or just having a wonderful picnic under the shade. What a waste that we didn’t.

There you have it. I focused on money here, but the same principle applies almost anywhere in your life. When you find yourself answering problems with, “If only I had more… (money, time, authority, etc.)”, stop yourself and ask, “How can I apply LESS to solve this problem?” More is rarely the answer.

So Charles, if you are reading it, this one was for you. I hope you reconsider that your love of reading, writing, exercise, technology, and computers is not about creating an income stream from doing those things. If money is the goal, there are lots of ways to make money, but you do the things you love because you have a passion for the experiences they bring.

Concentrate on increasing the experiences, and the money will come. Or not. But what does it matter if you are making a better life, instead of trying to make a better living?

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