lifestyle

Mindfulness - An Introduction

If something’s happening to me, I’d rather be around.
— Albert Camus

After coming back from work, I put on some music and stood in the kitchen, peeling off an orange. But, I wasn't really there. My mind was somewhere else, wandering off into the distant world of events past and the What-Could-Haves and What-Should-Bes. Suddenly, I heard the music - really heard it for the first time. And my feet started tapping of their own accord, a smile appeared on my lips and my mind started noticing what was happening. That was such a good feeling.

Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening around you in that particular moment, every moment. It means not ignoring the present in anticipation of the future or in memories of the past. 'Flow' and being 'in the zone' are the same concepts with different names.

All of us have experienced it in some form or the other. Perhaps you are a coder who gets lost in his code when being in the zone. Or while playing a sport, you probably give your best when your focus is on the game and not on some altercation you had with someone. A good movie drowns you in its fantasy world. Or you are texting and it takes a couple of shouts by someone to bring your attention away from your phone. The world fades away, for a brief few moments you lose sense of what is around you. You don't notice how your mind is working but it just does. That is being mindful. 

 

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT IT

This moment is your life. The moments to come may or may not be what you imagined. But this moment, right now, will never come back again. 

Be mindful for the simple reason that it makes you attractive to other people - you may not know it - but I observe this for sure. I am automatically attracted towards people who seem in a flow, self assured and thus confident. Being mindful makes your relationships better - wouldn't you rather have a friend actually listening to what you are saying rather than wandering off into the distance? Some of your best work is produced when you are engrossed in it. Food tastes better, music is nicer and conversations are more enjoyable. 

Imagine dipping into ice cream and it melting into your mouth as you imagine the fruits it contains. You really let the tastebuds experience the true joy of feeling the ice cream caressing your tongue. This might seem like a lot at first because you have to train your mind. But, I feel it is a good way to live life. Otherwise, you might arrive at each destination and wonder what's next. I don't recommend it for the sake of finding a deep answer or anything of that sort but for the simple reason that it feels so good. Haven't you experienced it yourself - maybe you are watching a great video and someone calls your name - you totally don't hear that happen, right? Compare it with a situation where you are watching that same video or movie but your mind is somewhere else and you probably don't enjoy it as much. 

You know the times when the mornings seem brighter, sweets sweeter and all that, wouldn't you want to have it all the time?

 

How to practice mindfulness

The simplest way to be mindful is to actually practice it in your daily life rather than finding a time to do it. Experience the juices of the food that you eat mixing together as they fill up your mouth. Feel the food travelling down your throat drenching it with the superb taste you were craving for. Read a book and imagine the author writing those exact words, scratching, and writing again with his pen on a piece of paper. Imagine his thoughts preceding the line you are just reading. Try it out right now. Let the music fill your ears, notice each different instrument in a song and how they all sound different yet together. Imagine the earth moving down a little as you walk - it really does even though it is a very small amount. Lie down under the open sky with your arms outstretched and feel the earth rotating and revolving at the same time. 

Truly live each moment, be aware of what is happening around you - there is never nothing going on. Take stock of the realities and don't ruin it by imagining the possibility of a bad future. Stop looking for the next kick and try to be at ease with the OK-ness and enough-ness of now. Indulge yourself in the activity at hand completely.

What you have right now is enough at this moment, isn't it? You are surviving, breathing, living life wherever you are. You can't bring time back. So why be lost in the events gone by when you can rather be in the present and enjoy what you have right now. I don't mean ignore the contemplation but choose a deliberate time for it. Bring your wandering mind back into the present, tell it to wait a little longer and finish off the task at hand. 

It isn't easy and probably is a lot of work but it is totally worth it. I can tell - my orange tasted so much better. 

 

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Simplifying everyday living

Our life is a sum total of the consequences of all the decisions that we make everyday. Every single day, we make countless big and small decisions which shape the course of our lives. What to wear, what to eat, whether to go out for dinner with that friend you haven't seen in a while or stay home and cook, so on and so forth. This constant decision making in every moment can take a toll on our mental space and leave us feeling exhausted. 

How do we cope with this? One way is to simplify our decision making. But, even after you do that, you still have to make those decisions. How about taking it one step forward and automating the decision making process? This, automated, simple and well-thought out decisions then become rules. 

Creating rules for your daily routine tasks frees up not only your day but clears up a lot of your mental space. These rules are based on your pre-thought out decisions. They are not made by any authority but by your own self which increases the chances of you actually going through with it. 

How do these rules look like? 
They can't be too generic - like Eat Healthier. This is not a rule. It is a state of life you want to reach to. Eat less sugar - this leaves ambiguity in the definition of what 'less' is. How about saying - Eat one sweet a week? This is actually a rule that I personally follow and so far I have been able to keep it up reasonably well. By making it time bound and by allowing a few treats I am also making it easier for me to follow since no sweet is much more difficult to do than one sweet a week.

There are multiple benefits with this. First is obviously that I eat less unhealthy stuff. Secondly, it is completely upto me to eat whatever I want as that one sweet of the week. I can choose to treat myself guilt free and without inhibitions.

Here are some of the rules that I intend to follow:

  1. Creating restraints - Eat one dessert over the weekend, one in a weekday is OK; check social media two times a day for 15 minutes each; one hour of leisure internet in the evening. This gives me the time do indulge into those guilty pleasures while keeping a check on them taking over my life.
  2. 30 seconds rule - After a work meeting, or after finishing up an article or after a movie, take 30 seconds to think through and if possible write down what happened and what you would like to remember about it. 
  3. Zone out time - This is the voluntary zone out time to let your mind wander. While doing our everyday tasks, our mind has a habit of wandering off. When this happens, our tasks get delayed, work gets affected. Instead, what we can do is notice that this is happening, tell ourselves to keep this thought for the zone out time to think about later and gently bring the mind back to the task at hand.
  4. Once a week clear up - Clear inbox over the weekend; clear Pocket queue; organise Evernote; clear out excess stuff from the house. This is to ensure a minimal style of living.
  5. Eat that frog - This is a technique that I've actually been following for quite some time. Do the most difficult task first when your energy levels are higher. Keep the smaller stuff for later.
  6. 15 seconds of mindfulness - Before starting a new activity, take a few moments to think if you actually want to do it or is it happening on its own accord. Be deliberate and take a few extra moments before rushing onto the next thing. 

These rules are intended to free up your mental space so that you can divert your time away from the mundane, unimportant or trivial to the more important stuff. Hope this technique serves you well.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend this Zenhabit's article.

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The Problem of Plenty

In the last two years, we've produced more information than that was produced in the entire history of mankind before that. This is incredible. While it is an absolutely amazing thing that more people are creating and sharing their work than ever before, it also poses a problem of what to consume and what to focus on. There are thousands of ways to spend your time with. New videos on YouTube everyday, more movies released every week, and millions of blog posts like this one, released regularly. What you follow and what you do with the things that you involve yourself in, thus becomes critical to the quality of life you lead and the satisfaction you derive from it.

Recently, I started noticing my consumption habits which I take the liberty to presume is common with a lot of folks around. Even before we finish reading an article, we are thinking of ways to share it. Before a song ends, the mind starts wondering which one to listen to next. Or the video you clicked on and the witty comment you are going to make on it. Or the picture you just took, and your brain starts processing all the possible tagline you'll post it with. All this sharing and consuming leaves little scope for actually incorporating the lessons you've learnt from it. 

And it is not just with sharing things online. Even if it just consuming for personal use, life seems to become a checklist. That movie your friends said you have to watch. Or this incredibly funny video someone shared on Facebook that you have to see. But, hold on. What if, you do not click on that? Would it be too extreme a step? Would you be missing out on something important? Maybe, but probably not. Perhaps, you can live without watching another funny video, another movie trailer. 

We click multiple pictures during our travels but never see them again. How about clicking only a few? Pictures are definitely a good way to record memories but how about skipping just this one particular sunset? A picture will remind you of the good times you spent somewhere. But, what if you don't have a memory of it in the first place since you spent that time clicking pictures. 

One of the things that are at play here are our fear of missing out. This in itself is the biggest reason for our passive consumption. We all want to feel like we belong somewhere, and thus we involve ourselves in things that everyone else is talking about. But, it is for us to realise that whatver is happening is right there with you in that particular moment. 

Realise that you are never going to finish even a tiny bit of all the articles you want to read or all the movies you have saved in your hard drive. So, isn't it wiser to make the experience of whatever you already have a little better? How about growing deeper rather than wider. This of course doesn't mean you should restrict your experiences. But, whatever you are doing in that moment, immerse yourself in it completely.  

In my life, for instance, right now I have about 25 posts which are in draft. Before, publishing this, I couldn't decide on which one to finish. But, unless I finish one, I can't move on to another one. I recently purchased a Kindle, and I found my reading habit go down instead of increasing as I had presumed it will. The thing is, that even though I had multiple options, I couldn't decide on which one to finish now. Thus, I now have more than 10 unread books in various stages of completion. I couldn't derive pleasure from my reading as much as I used to earlier. 

The simplest way is to start with one and finish it if it interests you. Instead of running after the next shiny thing, finish off the one at hand now. Create simple rules like an hour of leisure browsing. Take time to sink in what you've consumed. Let it digest much like food. Form your opinions around it. See how you can use it to make your own life better. If not, just notice how you feel after reading it. Are you more energised,  happier or perhaps just a little entertained. If so, take stock of it. The thing is when you don't so this,  chances are you are going to move from one to another post and eventually get tired of all the jumping around and switching of context. But, if you feel happy with this moving around, by all means. 

Take 30 seconds - that's it - no more. Think about what just happened. Or after coming out of a meeting with someone, take a minute to record what you felt. Or don't even record it, just think it over. Of course if you are doing it for entertainment, that's fine and you can ignore this suggestion. But, make a deliberate difference between your entertainment habits and learning habits.

Pick a few things and pursue them. There would be distractions for sure but ignore them. Otherwise, you would be left after a year of all half done things and stuff you haven’t completed. We can never do it all - the number of things to indulge ourselves in are too many out there. Choose wisely. Even if you can't do that, immerse yourself in what you have at hand. Do things that matter - there is the very popular 80-20 rule. 80% of your life is shaped by just the 20% of things you do. So, it is better to choose that 20% wisely. 

I am a compulsive consumer thus I have had to devise some strategies around my consumption patterns. One is I read much lesser when on the move. I just like looking outside instead. Some of the best things in the world have come out when the mind is wandering aimlessly. Or sometimes like it was for this post,  I write most of it on the move. I started simplifying my reading habits and my decision makingGradually, I am beginning to move into simplifying my wardrobe. The basic colors - whites/greys/blacks. And things which team up well with multiple items.

But, I am not very good at this myself. Even while finishing this article, I took a break for a few minutes to have dinner which then got extended to watching a movie (a pretty cool one by the way) and then a complete one day delay. Each of these small things add up and take away minutes/hours/days of your life. Your life then becomes a journal of what all you've finished doing and what else is pending. If you have a technique to sort this out, please add in your comments.


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Lull

For the past few weeks, I haven't been able to find the pool of creativity which earlier I was able to reach into. In the recent past, I could summon ideas almost at will but now I feel uninspired. This has resulted in discontent and a sense that if unchecked, this could turn into a longer term state of mind. Thus, I write this post to investigate this feeling and find a way to come out of it.

I call this state The Lull. Lull is a period of inactivity and of dissatisfaction because of it. This is not the same as depression though you can call it one stage before that. In fact a lull can occur even when your life seems interesting from an outside point of view. Even the best of us are susceptible to it - Stephen Fry's note on it is a recommended reading. Or much closer, I am reminded of Dhanya who moved out of his country even though he was happy since that wasn't it for him. 

Why does it really happen? I mean, have't we been taught that aiming for happiness is a good way to live life? Personally, I put it down to a skewed ratio of consumption vs production. I've always had a constant urge to create something to feel relevant and good about myself. And in the past few weeks I wasn't creating anything. My writing was gone, I wasn't learning much of Spanish, no exercise, no playing guitar. I even stopped playing Snooker. I was just consuming by way of watching movies, partying out with friends, so on and so forth. 

So, how do we fix this? First step is to actually realise that you are going through this phase. It seems like a flippant statement to make; it is anything but. Notice that you are entering a lull and if you let it take it's course, you can spiral down into a negative place. 

How do you notice this change? Chances are that you'll suddenly find yourself in this situation and break down or just be absolutely frustrated with how you ended up there. But, more often than not, this happens gradually and not overnight. So, notice small changes in your best habits. For me, it was writing lesser and lesser. Writing was one thing that gave me peace of mind. But, lately, I had not even been able to write in my journal, forget about writing blog posts. This then went on to procrastination and quitting on the targets I set for myself. 

Second step is to notice what are you doing instead of that habit. I started deriving acknowledgement from writing small Haikus and showing off to my friends who were more than generous with their praise. This, then gave me a false sense of accomplishment which prevented me from doing my long due writing project.

Next, ignore your mind. You see, whenever you want to take up something against inertia, your mind will give you reasons to not do it. Waking up early would be tough because it is too cold outside the blanket. You don't feel inspired enough to create that tune you always wanted to. You don't have a good idea to write a post about. Or, going for a run is too troublesome. But, stop this thinking.

It will seem a monumental task if you think through the whole thing. Shut your mind off. Just pick up the tool of your trade. No one's asking you to do anything with it, just pick it up for a few moments. Take one single step. Get off the bed and stand for one second. Hold the guitar in your hand for 5 minutes. Take a blank piece of paper and a pen. Tie your shoelaces and take a step out of the door. This is it. That's all you need to do in this moment. 

Figure out priorities and lower your ambitions. Focus on even fewer things. Take just one single thing and do it. Not even do it great, but just do it. If you are navigating your ship in stormy seas, you don't care about whether your ship's paint is coming off. You just want to make sure that your ship doesn't sink. You can worry about the fancy stuff later. Similarly, in a lull, just focus on getting out of it. Avoid being overtly critical of how you do it and what you did during that time. 

Create the most fertile ground. Figure out the scenarios that you were in which enabled you to feel inspired. If it is the set and setting that has changed, find a way to create those situations yourself. Perhaps you were spending more time alone. Or, maybe you were hanging out with a lot of new people. Or maybe, you had a good routine. Whatever it was that helped you be calm and content earlier, try to set it up again.

tldr; Check your consumption vs production ratio and go back to that one thing that gave you the peace of mind in the first place. For me, this post is a start in that direction.


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How to cure boredom

And feel fulfilled while at it

Now that I find myself with a lot of free time at my disposal, there is a possibility that I might not know what do with it. This would cause boredom and thus unsatisfaction. Thus, I have devised a two-step plan for myself to help avoid this situation. 

Step 1: Make a list of things that you would like to do. These could be things that you have always failed to find time for even though your heart longed for it. These are the things that you think would make you feel happy. They could be long term goals or short term activities. Make sure to write them down and even put it on a post-it where you can see them everyday. Put it on your bathroom mirror if need be. I’ve made this list in Evernote which I check regularly. This is what my list looks like:

1. Read a book
2. Write
3. Illustrate
4. Play guitar
5. Learn spanish/french on Duolingo
6. Take Illustration lessons on Skillshare
7. Coursera lessons on writing/art/philosophy etc.
8. Do pushups/exercise
9. Go outside, take a walk
10. Listen to music
11. Sleep
12. Work on ideas from the Evernote list

Step 2: Do those things.

This is it. There is no formula or an easy hack to cure boredom and feel more fulfilled. You just have to get down and do what you are supposed to do. It is easier said than done so here are a couple of things that help me.

1. Stop thinking about they Whys and the Why nots. For example, if you are planning to go for a run, stop thinking about how tired you are or how it is such a big pain to climb down the stairs. Just switch of your mind, lace up and go.

2. Imagine how you’d feel after you’ve accomplished the feat. I used this technique for writing this post. By imagining how nice and productive I’d feel after finishing this post, I was able to get down to it.

Another source of great inspiration for me which drives me forward in small and big things of life is Marcus Aurelius’ writings. They have helped me come to terms with some of the boring, mundane and sometimes harsh realities of life. He is one of the major Stoic philosophers. Stoicism is a philosophy which has affected me greatly and I strongly endorse it. Here are a few lines from his book to get you interested:

"In the morning when thou findest thyself unwilling to rise, consider with thyself presently, it is to go about a man’s work that I am stirred up. Am I then yet unwilling to go about that, for which I myself was born and brought forth into this world? Or was I made for this, to lay me down, and make much of myself in a warm bed? ‘O but this is pleasing.’ And was it then for this that thou wert born, that thou mightest enjoy pleasure? Was it not in very truth for this, that thou mightest always be busy and in action? Seest thou not how all things in the world besides, how every tree md plant, how sparrows and ants, spiders and bees: how all in their kind are intent as it were orderly to perform whatsoever (towards the preservation of this orderly universe) naturally doth become and belong unto thin? And wilt not thou do that, which belongs unto a man to do? Wilt not thou run to do that, which thy nature doth require? ‘But thou must have some rest.’ Yes, thou must. Nature hath of that also, as well as of eating and drinking, allowed thee a certain stint. But thou guest beyond thy stint, and beyond that which would suffice, and in matter of action, there thou comest short of that which thou mayest. It must needs be therefore, that thou dost not love thyself, for if thou didst, thou wouldst also love thy nature, and that which thy nature doth propose unto herself as her end. "

Hope these pointers work for you as well.

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Unstructured Life - Day 1

Yesterday was the first day in a long time when I didn’t have to do anything or be anywhere. It felt good. But, not as good as I felt day before when the anticipation of enjoying the pleasures of unstructured life filled up my heart. I was effusing happiness and it was infectious. Yesterday, it took other people to remind me that I don’t have to report in to work on Monday.

Sometimes the anticipation is more enjoyable than the actual thing. In anticipation, you imagine all the things that you would do and sometimes the reality is good but not great. This happens when you plan a trip. You take stock of all the options available to you, make a list of all the things you would do and you feel happy and excited. But, when you actually go to a vacation, you end up missing out on some of those things for lack of time/money/energy or some other factor. 

Overall, I am happy with the way my day has went by. I wanted my actions to be deliberate with whatever I choose to do. I woke up late after a night of debauchery. Cooked a mean breakfast which involved mango shake and veg pakoras. Watched a bit of In the Mood for Love which is an intriguing movie by Wong Kar Wai. If you haven’t watched any of his movies, go ahead and do it right now but go with an appetite for quirk. Then I took a long nap, woke up and ate fruits. I then tied-up my shoelaces and went for a good run. Came back, sipped green tea while reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Then I caught up with a friend, helped my roomie put in some new plants in the house and then went for an hour of Snooker. I ended the day with dinner and then finishing up the movie. 

Right now, I am at a good place where I am not worried about the future. Although, a lot of people have asked me what I’m going to do and a lot of them expect me to start up again which is hugely inspiring, I am not sure as to what my next step is going to be because I honestly have no idea. In all probability, I’ll take up a job again but this time I’ll be deliberate in choosing where I want to work.

I feel happy, relieved, fulfilled and a little skeptical of my own thoughts. See, even though I am feeling good right now, there will be a time in the future where I will start worrying about what to do next. I want to be prepared for that situation and be courageous enough to look at the man in the mirror and tell him that you have survived for so long and will do no matter what happens.

Meanwhile, I want to spend time doing things that I enjoy and ones that make me feel good. And in case you are still reading this blog tomorrow, you will get to know about it.

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2 Weeks Sprint

Notes on how to get started on something new

In internet domain, a lot of companies use 2 weeks sprints as a way of developing their product. These sprints are a list of things which need to get done in 2 weeks - thus becoming a TAG (time and amount goal). People put their head down and work on this with few distractions - atleast that’s the utopian ideologoy behind it. Although, I did not realise it and it took a friend to point this out, but I have been doing the same thing recently in my non-work life as well to good effect.

It started with reading. Some time back, I read more in a month than I did in the preceding year. And this was not passive online consumption jumping from one article to another but a more involved, active reading of a good book chosen after either a careful consideration or at an implusive whim. I carried a book wherever I went and read everywhere I could - while waiting to catch the metro, in the metro, on the rickshaw, in some spare moments at a friend’s place, in a cafe. This desire wasn’t forced upon by anyone but came from within and it felt great. This period of complete flow and being in the zone ended with me having read a bunch of great books, gaining new perspectives and learning a lot.

Side Note: If you want to read more, here’s a great article by Ryan Holiday. Also, sign up for his monthly book recommendation list, I’ve discovered a lot of gems there.

Then came a series of (still unpublished) articles which I have fondly compiled in the form of an ebook. I wrote on the lessons I learnt while running my first startup so that I can use those for my next venture. I used to work on it whenever I could. Scribbling down notes in a notebook while riding to work in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, at work whenever I could sneak out some time on Evernote, or at home, as soon as I returned back from office without caring to change my clothes or getting ready for dinner. This helped me finish off the first draft of my book in a relatively short amount of time. 

Side Note: If you want to get started on writing - you can try out some of the softwares I use - Notebook/Evernote for note taking. Q10 for writing. Scrivener for giving structure.

Then came the designing bit. Since I can’t sketch or draw to save my life, I resorted to learning designing softwares to help me bring my thoughts to creation. I put in two weeks of focused designing ignoring almost everything else, learning online courses, soaking up as much as I could. I practised and produced two works which I am proud of.

Side Note: Here are some of the classes I took and found the most useful - 1, 2 and 3

It also happened with Cooking. 2 weeks, mom’s recipes and I transformed from someone who fretted about what to eat for dinner to being able to feed a party of 2 pretty well. 

You catch the drift with where I am going with this.

These short of intervals of time with extreme focus helped me reach a level of which I could be proud of. And important thing is that none of it was very deliberate, it was just something that I felt I should be doing and went ahead with it. I had gotten into a flow. 

The point I am trying to make is if you want to level up in a particular field, a short sprint can help you achieve that quickly. As I write this, I realise that there is a counterpoint to this where people say slow and steady wins the race which is actually quite true. But, I am talking about new tasks which require an initial thrust, the first few scary and unpredictable steps. These sprints will help you cross that first hurdle.

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Inspiration and Getting Things Done

There have been times, which quite honestly come way too often, when I have felt uninspired and not wanted to do anything for a long time. I have procrastinated, produced work below my standards of quality and hence have been miserable. On the other hand, there also have been times when I felt a flow, was inspired and thought about something deeply and produced the best work that I can.

Obviously, we all want to maximise the latter and do away with the former. But, for this I do not want to rely on factors that are out of my control. Hence, I’ve found myself a few actionable items, hacks if you please, which have helped me stay more in the inspired zone and allowed me to produce good, meaningful work that I can be proud of. This post is about those things and I hope some of these are useful to you too.

Inspiration, for me, is something that drives me to create, to do and sometimes even consume. A good book inspires me to write stories and pen down my thoughts as well as inspiring me to pick up another good book to read. Inspiration moves you to act, it pulls you away from inaction. It instills a sense of optimism as if everything that you desire is in your reach and shows you a clear path to achieve those. But, where does it come from?

A good book, obviously. A moving speech, a thought provoking movie or a good conversation. But, apart from these external factors, I believe our own thoughts are our biggest sources of inspiration. Don’t we all know how our best ideas have a habit of arriving to us in the shower? But, how do we tap into this source?

The best way is to put yourself into those positions. I am not talking about the long walks, showers, long bike rides kind of thing. I mean a step after that. Start recording during that time. I am deeply influenced by and believe in a brilliant TED talk says that how the inspiration fairy grabs you and you have to act in that moment or else that fairy will move on to the next available, better prepared seeker. Keep a notebook at hand, record a voice message to self on your phone, tell a friend. Once these inspirations are recorded, you can work on them at a later time.

But, there are times when even after knowing all this stuff, you can’t act on it. What to do then? Don’t we all have a few brilliant ideas in our heads but nothing to show it for. Try these:

1. Change things
Our mind gets bored with repetitive things and seeks constant change (an oxymoron, I know). Whether it be in foods we eat, things we do, our hobbies or even our relationships. But, the irony is when we do seek out changes, it resists. Mind is a weird creature, seeking change but resisting when the moment to change comes along. Come over that resistance and change something. Move to a different location to work or change your posture or use a standing desk. Change helps to bring fresh perspectives and hopefully it can drive you back into flow.

2. Just get started
Starting up something is the biggest step and requires the most effort. At times, I write random stuff just to get started. Sometimes I even write about the fact that I don’t have anything to write about. But, after substantial number of minutes have passed with me putting pen to paper, something good starts to emerge. And it has served me well in other activities as well.

3. Get a good tool
An instrument or the tools of a trade/skill are very important for the kind or even the amount (and maybe thus the quality) of work produced. It is easy to say that a good artist excels irrespective of the environment she lives in. But, there is no harm in using all the help that you can get. I have not been much of a snob about it though - I still use a worn out Dell which heats up after 10 minutes of usage which also happens to be the amount of time it takes to boot up. But recently, I got a beautiful notebook and a Staedtler as a gift and I bought myself a writing desk. They make me want to use them. Beautiful tools call out to you. They want to serve the purpose they were built for and thus help you get into a flow.

4. Keep your personal and work tools separate
This is to ensure that there is no context creep between the two and it lets you focus on each thing separately. I have set up my personal, albeit slower laptop for personal projects and I keep my office laptop just for that - office work. It lets me be more involved in my day job and allows me more time or atleast a perception of more time for personal work.

What to do after you are inspired and have recorded your thoughts? Elaborate, even when you are not in the flow. Neil Gaiman once said that if you write only when you are inspired, you can be a good poet at best. But, to be a great novelist, you have to slog it out through drudgery even when you are not inspired. You have to put in those extra hours, one word after another and hope that you can get into a flow.

Related watch - Jack White on Inspiration

A Primer On Minimalism

minimalism
/ˈmɪnɪməˌlɪz(ə)m/
noun
1. a movement in sculpture and painting which arose in the 1950s, characterized by the use of simple, massive forms.
2. an avant-garde movement in music characterized by the repetition of very short phrases which change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect.
3. deliberate lack of decoration or adornment in style or design.

Minimalism, as a philosophy has attracted me for quite some time. I have been a follower, reader and if my friends are to be believed, a vocal supporter of the minimal way of life. First started as a movement in art and music, it is now found in almost every aspect of life you can imagine. 

Minimalism can have different connotations for different people. For me, it means hoarding less stuff and doing more with less. It also means removing clutter and waste from my life - things like stress, bad influences, poor connections. This leaves me with only the things that matter, which add value to my life. 

If you are interested in exploring about this philosophy, here are a few points which might come in handy to get you started.

1.Buying less stuff - Let’s just get this out of the way. Minimalism by definition means making do with lesser stuff. It might sound cynical to say but we’ve been conditioned to consume. A visit to the mall yesterday reminded me of the lure of buying more stuff. I was impressed by all the shiny stuff on display around me and felt like buying things I didn’t need or the ones I already have. Now, there is not a problem with that per se. But, the problem arises when this ‘stuff’ doesn’t add value in your life and takes away valuable time, energy and money from things and experiences which actually matter, which brings me to my next point.

2. Spend on experiences, not things - There is a brilliant 5 minute clip of George Carlin where he talks about our hoarding culture. We spend our lives hoarding stuff and buying more of it wherever we go. We have to do that because we can’t carry our stuff everywhere we go. Whereas, your experiences travel with you wherever you go and help you grow as a person. Stuff fades away but the memories of great experiences linger on. 

3. Removing excess baggage - Realise that you are a tiny part of something huge at play. The stress you carry, the worries that you have, the emotional baggage that bogs you down and your problems are of no consequence in the grand scheme of things - not only on the scale of universe but on the scale of your own life. Worry itself is wasteful but if it is actionable then it could be good - so choose your battles carefully. You only have so much energy, spend it on contemplating about the things that matter a lot to you.

4. Deeper rather than wider - There is way too much stuff in the world for us to consume. Too many books to read, so many movies to watch, many places to see and a lot to learn. My idea is that there is a bigger joy in immersing yourself completely in one single thing rather than superficially scanning tens of them. The world is designed with plenty for each to learn in her own path of choosing. The knowledge from one book is equal to what you get in 100 books together or from one each of them. It is a matter of how you perceive it. A moonlit evening can be romantic to the heart which is full of love or can feel lonely to a troubled mind. It is a matter of how you look at it. 

5. Focus - This has become one of my favorite words recently. Focus on only the things that matter. Our tiny attention spans have a way of moving us about in different directions. Give more to one single activity, you are probably going to enjoy it more. Read less but deeply engage with it. Watch a movie and imagine yourself becoming the character. Project yourself how it would feel in the stadium while watching a match on the screen. Immerse yourself, become them.

6. Prioritize - We are all capable human beings who want to do a lot in our lives. I, for one know that I want to do multiple stuff - write, cook, click pictures, play guitar, learn Spanish and a host of other things. But, the structure of our lives doesn’t allow us to do so many things all at once. So, learning to prioritize helps. Saying ‘NO’ to things is as important, if not more, to choosing which ones to say ‘YES’ to. And if these priorities change over time, that’s fine. 

Leading a minimal life has helped me reduce stress, become more fulfilled and be happier in general. I am not an accomplished minimal guy but am getting there. So, this post is to remind me how to get there as much as it is to inform you. I hope these steps help you get started on your path to minimalism if you like to. And, if you do, I hope it brings you as much happiness in your life as much as it has in mine. 

Further Reading:

What is Minimalism by The Minimalists

Minimalists FAQs by Leo Babauta 

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Doing is a state of being

I have been obsessed with the idea of being for quite some time now. I have spoken about this in some of my posts and have had some understanding of this concept. But, it is only recently that I have realised that I understood it all wrong. 

image

Poster in a friend’s room. 

Earlier, when I thought of ‘being’ as a concept, I imagined a life where I am not doing anything, just lying around engrossed in my own thoughts and observing the world around me. I did that for some time and enjoyed it. But, soon I realised that this is not the idea of being. Make no mistake, for others, what I just described could be a perfect way of existence, but its just not for me.

For me, ‘Doing’ is a state of ‘Being’. I like being in the midst of action, being aware, making things happen, producing more than consuming. I realised this the hard way when I wasn’t particularly happy with the state of affairs. I procrastinated, dilly dallied on the things that needed to be done. Feeling productive is a great feeling, it almost makes you feel as if your existence has a purpose. And that is why I wrote this post - to remind myself when I am feeling lazy that beyond the laziness, beyond the comfort zone, there is a much better feeling. 

Of course I am saying this right now because my mind seeks conflict. It might happen that after a few months of doing, I might feel like going back to not doing anything and being. But for now, I am good with ‘Doing is a state of being’ principle.