Minimalism: A Complete Introduction

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Joël

Minimalism, what do you think when you hear these four syllables? Often the word sparks the imagination with images of people living on the street with little to no belongings. Otherwise of guys writing blogs about how they only possess 10 things, nomads that are always traveling, or people below the poverty line. However, is minimalism really about having nothing?

In this blog I cover the following topics:

  1. What got me into minimalism
  2. Where minimalism comes from
  3. What minimalism stands for
  4. How minimalism is a solution to everyday problems
  5. How minimalism can improve your life

Discovering Minimalism

As I traveled through South America I hitchhiked, I camped, I ran into the widest variety of people, and I experienced plenty adventures. It didn’t matter how uneasy the adventures were, in the end there was always a friendly hand that reached out. All the while though, I was carrying a backpack with 17 kilos of my belongings. Even though, I was carrying this tiny amount of my belongings, I still didn’t use parts of it. This made me wonder, why am I carrying this extra baggage around? Do I really need this stuff that only makes me tired when I walk in the burning sun? As a consequence, my interest in minimalism was born.

backpack

Now you might think: “you want to minimize when you are carrying around only 17 kilograms of your belongings, are you crazy?” Before I explain myself better here, let’s start with figuring out where the idea of minimalism comes from.

The Origin of Minimalism

Minimalism started out as a movement nowhere else than the United States. Why do I say “nowhere else than”? Because minimalism is basically the opposite of consumerism, and the US with around 21.000 trillion dollars has the biggest consumer market in the world. China comes in second place with 33% less.

I believe it’s logical therefore, that the counterpart of consumerism was born there as well. Somehow there were people that realized constantly buying stuff isn’t the way to happiness. Prominent people in this movement at the time were, and still are, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, Colin Wright from Exile Lifestyle and the Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. Nowadays, Matt D’avella, a famous YouTuber known for the Netflix documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, generates a lot of interest on the subject as well. He uses attractive documentary style filmed and edited YouTube videos to generate attention for the lifestyle.

These minimalists show that there are huge advantages in owning less. Some of them travel the world, others maintain a healthy bank account because of it, and others inspire newcomers.

The Strength of Minimalism

Now you might think, these people were far from the first to engage in lifestyles aimed at possessing less. This credo is a central part of Buddhism for example, Jesus didn’t have a lot either and there are plenty other prominent people in history that were already aware of the toxicity of owning a lot of stuff.

If there are alternatives to minimalism, the following question is only logical: “Do we need minimalism at all?”. Yes, I believe we do. Western society is about earning more, buying more and owning more. This process puts immense stress on our planet and adds little real value to our lives. Nowadays depression is the leading cause of disability on the planet and there is no way to buy yourself out of it.

Minimalism is an answer to these destructive consumerist tendencies. It’s a comprehensible philosophy: own less feel better. Most importantly though, it has a name. The simple fact that it has a name makes it easier for you to integrate it into your life. Further, it allows you to talk about it to your friends and to find the latest information by googling it. And by giving it a name you can identify with it. You can feel good and say, “I am a minimalist!”.

Stuff drags you down and don’t make you happy. They cost money and fill your life with emptiness. Throw them out and be happy again. That’s a lot easier to understand than the thousands of pages that come from religious scriptures.”

Minimalism and Western Society

A closer look at western society shows that minimalism is way better to help people live a simplified and meaningful life, than for example, religion. Here is why:

  • It’s recent. Religion has a hard time applying it’s thousands of years old scriptures to today’s rapidly changing society. As a consequence certain teachings become unbelievable. Minimalism on the other hand, talks about something that is relevant today and has a clear cut answer.
  • It has a direct answer on one of today’s major issues. Stuff drags you down and don’t make you happy. They cost money and fill your life with emptiness. Throw them out and be happy again. That’s a lot easier to understand than the thousands of pages that come from religious scriptures.
  • It reflects western society. Religion usually comes from one or two hard to understand books. Minimalism however, is on social media, blogs, YouTube and in easy to read books.
  • It is easy to identify with for citizens in Western Societies. Western citizens went to school, enjoy above average opportunities in life, and have to worry less about money than most of the world. This feeds into the philosophy of consumerism. Minimalism however, provides an alternative to this paradigm.
wall-closet

Getting Started

As I am a white male from north western Europe I had and have all the opportunities I could wish for. However, that filled backpack got me thinking anyway. As I mentioned before, I was carrying too much and at the same time I had a hard time finding my stuff. It turns out I am not that organized after all. A variety of people I have lived with over the years have notified me repeatedly of this quality, however, I only realized it recently. It’s hard to blame someone else for your mess when you are traveling by yourself.

Even though, I was already a minimalist by living out of my backpack, minimalism is not about having little things. It is about having the optimal amount of things. The idea is to live a life filled with things that actually add value. For me the trigger to think in this direction was the literal weight of what I was carrying, and the difficulty I had finding my stuff in a 60 liter backpack.

For you though, this could be a simple question: “What things around me do not add value to my life?”. If you realize that that’s most of your stuff, that’s ok. If you feel like it’s too much to get rid of all of it, that’s ok too. I think minimalism is a process that everybody can engage in on it’s own terms. What for the one means living out of a backpack, could mean to you organizing the attic or cleaning the garage.

organized-closet

As you get better at seeing what really adds value to your life, you will notice that most personal belongings don’t add any value.”

The Advantages of Minimalism

To finish this blog, here are the advantages of minimalism:

  • It’s fun. Minimalism is a sport you can get better at. At first it might be hard to reduce your belongings, but over time you see more and more what really adds value to your life and what doesn’t.
  • It saves money. You buy less so you spend less. At the same time you can sell all the stuff you don’t need anymore to earn some extra money.
  • It clears your head. You reduce the mess around you, which reduces the mess inside your head. Once you organize your surroundings with less distractions, you will notice the increase in concentration and peace in your mind.
  • It helps you reduce your environmental impact. You consume less so you create less waste.
  • It helps you generate time for the important things in life. Unconsciously all these things around you demand time. Be it to clean them, to organize them, to use them, to not break them, or worse even: think about them. With all that stuff out of your life you can enjoy time with your family, friends, do sports, travel or whatever makes you happy.
  • It shows you progressively how unimportant things are. As you get better at seeing what really adds value to your life, you will notice that most personal belongings don’t add any value. More and more you can disconnect, and live happily regardless of what you have or don’t have.

How Dialogue Can Save the World

Ok, here we go. One last time I will take the current political situation in Brasil as an entree for a blog. As the final round of the elections approaches this Sunday, it is all but clear what will happen to Brasil. One of the electoral candidates’ business backers was funneling money to advertising companies that abuse WhatsApp to influence voters. To me it was little surprising that things like these were going on, however it did all but help to unite Brazil. Now, there is even more reason to hate the opposing political party and its’ proponents.

Who Will Save Brazil?

What is astonishing to me, but also understandable given the situation, that nobody seems to realize that not one of the electoral candidates will save Brazil. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, politics is a popularity contest. The fact that there was money going to advertising companies that use whats-app to influence voters unfortunately strengthens my case. It’s like a football game being stuck in the 90th minute at 0-0, on the one side Jair Bolsonaro, on the other side Fernando Haddad. Obviously not one of the supporters is going to give way. Both believe there is just one that deserves to win. Everybody forgets that the supporters themselves (shouting, tweeting, boinking their horn), together, are the people that will eventually have to do the work to change Brazil.

christ

Even though, the next president will have power to give a direction to the country, there is not a single president ever in history, nor a member of a political party that builds houses. Nor do they plant trees, protect wildlife, cook food for the poor, teach in schools or clean the roads. That’s what the people do, that’s what you do. The same people, that instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue, are currently fighting each other for supporting the other candidate.

20th Century Tribal Life

Nevertheless, not only in politics people choose sides. Also, when it comes to dietary choices there are tribes. Be it vegans, paleo-proponents, carnivores, or keto-diet lovers, somehow in every group there are people that think that only they are right.

From diet, to sports, to religious orientation, to field of work, to nationality, to the city you are from, or the skin color you were born with. All of these things have been made part of peoples’ identity, therefore distancing themselves from “the others”.

Let’s take religion as an example. As Rabbi Alan Lurie writes in a Huffington Post blog on “Is Religion The Cause of Most Wars?“, that it is not. However, in another blog Alon Ben-Meir argues that even though 10% of the wars in history were fought in the name of god, far more had a religious component to it. The moment one religion says that their god is the only god, all the other religions are wrong. The same goes for communism and the mix of consumerism and capitalism that reigns in today’s western societies. In this case there is no god, but these ideologies are quite dogmatic anyway. In the case of communism it was worth 100 million deaths spread over various regimes. And in the case of consumerism there are at least 18 million people dying every year. Yes, Heart Disease, Obesity, and Diabetes are all consequences of a lifestyle based in consumerism.

Does this seem like a long shot to you? I believe not, at least, if you allow yourself to look at things in a more profound manner. The Communistic philosophy doesn’t preach to kill people by itself, nevertheless making communism a crucial part of your identity makes it a lot more likely. Along these lines it is similar to consumerism. The idea of working, getting payed, consuming, and working again doesn’t necessarily say anything about killing yourself. Do it with enough dedication though, and it ultimately will.

Identity

In Me, Me, Me, is not Me I already wrote about how we are not what we identify with. How that so, you ask? Well in short; everything we identify with is a human creation and could therefore be anything. “But”, you say, “at least we are our body, right, that’s ours?” Then, why do most people care more about cars, money, and status, than their body?

The whole crux lies in the fact that as soon as you identify with something, be it veganism, paleo, religion, a political party, a sports club or the country you are from, you are part of the group. Once you identify with one part of the identity, you are prone to all other parts of the identity as well.

However, if you manage to think critically of your position you are open to be criticized by people within your identity group. As a consequence this will create distance between you and the fundamentalists, ever more prone to criticism for you not living up to your identity. On the contrary, when you are fundamental about your identity you will be criticized by everybody outside of your group. This is all the more reason for you to not like the others and reinforces your belief in your identity. Do you see the system at work here?

This is exactly what is happening now in Brazil, what happens between the US and “terrorists, what happens during heated soccer games, and what happens when fundamental vegans and paleo people get into discussions. This polarization leads to rigidity which is only reinforced by the other doing the same. This creates evermore distance which reduces the chances on real dialogue.

The Solution is Dialogue

So, here comes the solution. Dialogue, I already mentioned it a couple of times. What, dialogue? Yes, people actually talking to each other, leaving all assumptions about the other on the table. As Peter Senge writes in his book the 5th Discipline, it is essential for people to work and learn together that they are able to speak to each other in a truthful and non-judgmental manner. This is one the essentials for any organization, or country in this case, to flourish. However, more often than not, you respond to what you think somebody else is saying than what they are actually saying. That is, you will have to ask the other what he means if you want to be sure about what the other says, however that is not what you usually do. We assume what the other means, and respond.

The clue with dialogue is that it becomes clear which of you assumptions are true and which are not. Finally you learn to speak the same language.

dialogue-box

The real power of engaging in dialogue, from my perspective, lies in that you cannot engage in it, without accepting that you are in the same boat with the other person. This is fundamentally different when you engage in a debate or discussion, where there are opposing forces.

Consequently, you can start directing your collective energy in the same direction, you can start developing new ideas, and come up with solutions that you never thought of because you were so busy trying to discredit the other.

Use Your Imagination

Imagine, you, your boss, and all of your direct colleagues sitting down, leaving status and hierarchy at the door, and talk about how you all can make the most of the company. Imagine the Brazilian electoral candidates sitting down together, trying to figure out a strategy to, really, improve violence, poverty, and education. Imagine, the western governments sitting down with so called “terrorist” organizations. Imagine two opposing groups of soccer fans uniting to create the most awesome soccer experience ever. Imagine, everybody ditched their identity, and saw that there are more similarities between every single one of us, than there are differences.

In case you think this is impossible – I would consider that a lack of imagination. So, what do you imagine?

old-young

How to Use SMART Goal Setting to Change Your Perception of Time

In the first part of this blog post about how our perception of time is limiting us, we discovered how there is a difference between how we perceive time and how things actually develop over time. This tension is largely subject to how we experience time, that is, how our thoughts and emotions are influencing our perception of objective time. As things go, thoughts and emotions are the only things in our lives that are not bound to space nor time.

Underneath I will discuss how you can relieve yourself of this tension and make your life a little easier. The tool to this, is nothing less elementary than goal setting.

The Power of Creating Focus

The power of goal setting comes from two things. First, the fact that humans excel in focusing. Not only in a abstract manner but also in a physical manner. Try to look at a point in front of you and see how everything around that sight blurs eventually. Any person playing sports, or having experienced anything of heightened importance will have experienced this ability someway or another. This phenomenon was beautifully shown in an experiment where study subjects were asked to count how many times a group of people threw the ball around in a video. Most of them counted right. Nobody saw the gorilla walking by though. Later they redid the experiment, since everybody was focusing on the gorilla now, little people saw the color changes in the background.

Goals are Context

Second, in an abstract manner, setting goals in the future has been shown to improve performance and the capacity to overcome mental trauma. Also, it supposedly closes the gap between ethnic and minority achievement rate.

The combination of using human excellence and the fact that goals allow us to compare everything we experience in relation to it, makes goal setting remarkably useful. As Dan Ariely mentions in his book Predictably Irrational:

Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.

Thus, goals not only bring our perception of time and objective times closer towards each other, it also creates context. A set goal is is like something slapping you in the face when you start imagining things other than what is actually going on, a written reality check.

For reference, I added the list of objective times again that I used in the first part of this blog post.

objective-times

SMART Goal Setting

Now to the practical part. A commonly used system for goal setting is the SMART system. They tortured me with this in university time after time. “You need to set SMART goals, otherwise you won’t know if your treatment is having any effect”. And really, it’s true, definitely when working with people, there are so many variables, it’s nice to have something to relate to.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Let’s take an example here, you want to improve your fitness. This goal by itself is hard to test but once put into SMART form it will get tangible. First you need to be more specific, you can use the 5 W’s for this. Who, What, When, Why, and Where. In this case this could be you alone (who) goes running (what), after work (when), to improve fitness (why) in the park (where).

run-in-park

To make your fitness increase measurable you decided you want to be able to run 5k, since you can run 2k now this is achievable. It is also realistic depending on your current situation (you run 2k already). This might have been different if you decided to run a marathon. However, this all depends as well on the time you designate to achieve your goal.

The SMART goal would come together like this:

I want to be able to run 5k after work in the park to improve my fitness 8 weeks from now.

This goal is simple to construct because the specific part is easily described. If you take a look at the list of objective times above, there are some things that are inherently harder to describe and to measure. If you want to prevent chronic disease in 20 years, how do you make that goal? Or when you want to change cultural beliefs?

What to Do With Goals that Can’t Be Made Specific or is Difficult to Measure?

The key here is to figure out what the indicators are that lead to these things. In the case of preventing chronic disease these are markers like cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and fat percentage. However, what are the markers for change in cultural beliefs? Or for that sake what are the markers for political change?

In some cases these markers or predictors might be there, but culture and politics are systems that are the result of our collective beliefs. At the same time changes take years. From my perspective the only sensible way to deal with these things is that first, you have to accept that you can influence these things, and second that it starts with you thinking and acting differently. If you want to put this into SMART terms, I leave up to you.

Hey there! You can also follow on me Twitter now, click here! Thanks and see you around, Joël

How Your Perception of Time is Limiting You and How To Change It

It’s new to me, how much politics is influencing my thinking the previous weeks. These Brazilian elections have provoked me to research more than I ever did for Dutch elections. I have been trying to understand on a more fundamental level how, from my perspective, a destructive force is helped into power by the public. In an earlier blog I explored why long term solutions in politics are unattractive, but also how our perceived discomfort in certain situations forces us in the direction of short term solutions. Politicians are well aware of this discomfort and capitalize on this to gain popularity. However, not only in politics, but also in healthcare, business, and our private lives is this a relevant topic. I realized that a common provoker of this discomfort is an inadequate perception of time.

Our perception of time is on the one side bench-marked to the world around us, how is time culturally perceived, what is early, what is late, and where is the future and where is the past (more on that below). Secondly, I personally belief the most relevant aspect of time perception; the speed of our thoughts and emotions and the intensity with which we experience them.

Cultural Perception of Time

The first one, our cultural perception of time, has one common denominator across all cultures. Every culture uses a time-in-space metaphor. this means that all over the world people describe time related to space. However, it depends on where you live, which space-metaphor is used. In western society the future is in front of us and the past behind us. In Ayrana (native people from the Andes), the passed is in front (that what can be seen) and the future behind. The Yupno people from Papua New Guinea and the Tzeltal from Mexico think of the passed as being down hill, and the future uphill.

Culture also largely defines how you behave related to time. Where in Germany and Switzerland on time, means arriving exactly at the agreed time, because they see compartmentalization as the surest route to efficiency. In the Netherlands you can be a couple of minutes later and still be on time, nevertheless the Dutch otherwise relate to time in a similar way as Germans and the Swiss. In Brazil I have come to understand time as it’s 9 o’clock until it’s 10 o’clock. Even more “creative” with the clock they are in Colombia. I was recently told by two Colombians that agreeing to meet at 2 o’clock is okay, showing up at that time is foolish. Don’t come before 4.

colombian-street

Another significant difference, is if time is perceived as linear or cyclical. In my very first post on this blog I proposed a different perspective to time, and I explained my adoption of a more cyclical view. In western society this is novel, because time is generally perceived as progressing linearly. In eastern cultures though, the Japanese and the Chinese have always perceived time as progressing cyclical.

Subjective Perception of Time

Second then, the speed of our thoughts and emotions play a significant role as well. As our perception of time on the one hand is influenced by our external environment (culture, society), it is also subject to our internal environment. Are you feeling good or bad, are you doing something you like, or something you hate. The way you experience time in these cases can be totally different. That boring school assignment seems to take ages, where watching an exciting movie can pass by in seconds. Then again, once we are in severe pain it seems like time lasts forever.

alexander-michl-724529-unsplash

Now that we are familiar with what influences our perception of time, the moment is right to become familiar with how long things objectively take. I believe this to be of essential importance because we usually adhere to our perception of time, forgetting that there is actually a lot known about the objective duration of things.

Objective Times

Underneath is a list of objective times as I have come to understand them from literature on history and medicine plus my own experience:

objective-times

When you read this list, it is important to consider that thoughts and emotions are the only things on there, that are not in someway or another limited by time and space. At the same time they are the portal through which we experience everything else.

I believe that most discomfort and hardship that we experience comes from two things. First, to be unaware of, or failing to accept how we are objectively progressing in time. This could be failing to comprehend the time that is needed for a political situation to change or a fractured bone to heal.

Cause and Effect Can Be Hard to Connect

Second, very often cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. The burger you started eating weekly at age 25 might be the initiation of the behavior that led to your diabetes at age 45. Similarly when I start eating beans instead of beef I instantly reduce my carbon footprint. This might help turn around climate change in 15 years, saving thousands of lives of people living on islands that would have run under water otherwise. It is hard to see these connections, if not impossible. However, if you accept the possibility, there is a lot in life that you can influence from this moment on.

beans

When you accept the possibility that your actions can have consequences that you have no way to experience or connect with each other – that leaves you with the challenge to accept that as long as you live on earth there are certain time frames you cannot evade. I often try to raise awareness to this fact with my clients. The mind jumps from past to future, and back again within seconds. However, our body acts more like a plant, and adheres to a slower and gradual time frame.

Where the objective time frame of the body, often with the support of a skilled healthcare practitioner, can be understood and experienced first hand, changes in environment, culture and politics are harder to experience objectively. As things go, they do not hurt us directly like a bone fracture does, and there are less people taking the time to explain this phenomena in full. Also because the systems underlying these changes are often very complex and hard to understand.

Nevertheless, in our private lives, in politics, in your business or regarding your personal health, there is a very simple thing you can do to deal with all the discomfort from the tension between how you experience time, and the time it takes for things to happen. Read all about that in the second part of this blog on SMART goals here.

How Does Politics Really Work?

Je moet het ijzer smeden als het heet is – You should mold the iron when it’s hot

– come into action when you recognize the right moment. –

Dutch saying

With the presidential elections less than two weeks away here in Brazil, I thought it time to take – what we call – politics under closer scrutiny. More than often a topic of discourse, politics is usually treated as an influential phenomenon. We like to think so at least.

Democracy

So far the least worst system created that has held up on bigger scale is democracy. In this political construct every person has the ability to vote for the idea or person that he or she would like to see established in his or her country. However, is this really the case, that the voter has the power to express what he or she wants?

By comparison we stick to democracy because a dictatorship scares every person after we have seen so many vivid images of Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Mao Zedong, and others. Similarly we stick to capitalism because communism was (executed) way worse by comparison. This does not mean however, that democracy and capitalism are great systems.

Brazil

Currently in Brazil, there is heavy campaigning going on between 13 presidential candidates. Main topics of discussion are the treatment of minorities, abortion, and how to deal with the sustaining violence. According to Brazilian news outlet Globo, in the years 2016 and 2017 together the Brazilian police killed almost 10.000 people. Supposedly the highest amount in the world.

rafaela-biazi-680927-unsplash

Ordem e Progresso (Order and Progression) written on the Brazilian flag, far from present in everyday life however.

Now it’s definitely important that these topics get attended to, the thing is though, that they are symptoms – not origins of problems. People are more frustrated about the likelihood to be robbed in the street than the quality of education. However, when you take a moment and think, change the latter and you will alter the former. This would be a very long term plan (a lot more than 1 president can realize) and would take planning and dedication to execute.

Imagine yourself in a situation where you have to take care every time you take out your phone of your pocket, as soon as its get dark certain places are no-go-zones and you pay 40% of taxes on top of all your groceries that you never see in return in the form of quality healthcare or education (only in shiny suits, big houses, and nice cars of your politicians). In a situation like this, that is not only common in Brazil but also other Latin American Countries, nobody wants to wait 20 years before people stop robbing and assaulting.

The Candidate’s Perspective

At the same time imagine the attractiveness of this strategy as a presidential candidate who only governs for four years, and needs to explain this complex strategy to 200 million people. Conceding to shouting one-liners and emotional presentations is a lot more attractive. And that is what a lot of politicians do.

And it works! Why? Because politicians spend a lot of money understanding us, human beings, how to make our clock tick in their direction and how to tap in to our irrationality. So in this beautiful democracy, who is influencing who? Politicians know; attack is the best defense. And then, even more so: how much money and time have you recently invested in figuring out how to influence politics?

Flaws

However, this does not only apply to Brazil, but to the U.S. and the Netherlands as well. Right there, we have a couple of essential flaws to the system. A 4 year period is too short to get something done for real, and every election campaign turns into a popularity contest – not a contest of the best ideas to resolve present issues. In Brazil popularity revolves around the subject violence, in the US around Mexican immigrants and terrorism, and in the Netherlands around refugees. On top of that all, by ways of the democratic system it is impossible to take every inhabitant of a country into account for any politician, regardless of which of these countries you visit.

Democracy is so overrated.

Frank Underwood (House of Cards)

I love how the Netflix hit-series House of Cards portrays the workings of politics and of democracy in this case. An interplay between dealing in favors behind the cameras, and figuring out how to make the voter do you what you want when you are in front of the camera. Even though, large parts of the series could be perceived as exaggerated, The Guardian Australia’s Political Editor, confirms the deal-making culture that is highly influenced by third party interests. A useful thing to keep in mind: politics is influenced by third party interests.

Since we have been scared by the alternatives to democracy everyone keeps discussing left, right, and center instead of if democracy, or politics is the best way to govern a country at all.

Transcending Democracy and Political Decision Taking

Transcending this discussion of left, right, and center has direct implications for your life. Are you going to wait until the party that verbalizes your desires best before you can live the way you want? Or, are you going to turn that around?

Politics will never be a solution, and because it is a glorified popularity contest to begin with, the topics you think important are nothing more than a trigger to acquire votes. Whatever subject makes it into the debates of politicians will never be what it was before. It doesn’t matter what happens with it, as long as it gains votes.

woman-protester

Error 155: Democracy not found

Topics to consider in this case are drugs, terrorism, Islam, refugees, guns, and abortion. These topics are present in politics across the entire planet, but when being spoken about them, how much of it is about understanding the problem, and solving it thereafter, and how much is about votes and popularity?

The moment these subjects enter the realm of politicians, information gets disguised, twisted and abused all to acquire votes. Drug laws resemble political views not actual science, otherwise alcohol would have been illegal before LSD, mushrooms, weed, amphetamines, and cocaine. If laws on terrorism would be rational than they would be far less important than fighting diabetes and hearts disease. The former “only” cost around 25.000 lives in 2016 (as published on Satistica), where diabetes and hearts disease, according to the World Health Organization, takes 18.3 MILLION lives every year. Both of the diseases are preventable in 99.9% of the cases.

A small example of what happens to subjects once they become a political theme. I am by no means arguing to abandon the current systems (before we have an alternative). However, at the very least you should be aware of the real value of what is being discussed. As with all things, if you want to make a decision that works for you and not what works for somebody else; educate yourself and never stop questioning.

How To Deal With Your Automatic Self When Trying To Change

The ambiguity effect suggests that people prefer to choose an option with a known probability of a favorable outcome over an option where the probability is unknown

As I recently moved to Brazil I was confronted again and again, with what is called the Ambiguity Effect. It states that people tend to favor decisions where the odds are known. When you are unaware of this tendency it is likely that you stick to a vicious circle leading to nothing but the familiar. In my case, as everything was new, I got stuck plenty of times. In your case, if you finally have decided to change something in your life, you might still choose the non-disruptive way, not because it is the best decision, but because it feels safe. I believe it is time to enter the world of the unknown.

Cognitive Bias

Cognitive biases could be described system failures in our human reasoning. Where a rational form of reasoning is usually preferred, cognitive biases make us believe we are rational when we are not. The ambiguity effect is one of them.

This one is particularly interesting because to get anywhere in life there are plenty of moments you will need to deal with unfamiliar situations. When your mind is screaming for familiarity and comfort, you should actually go where you feel the most resistance. Even when anything from a red head to vomiting proves your hardship.

Slightly kidding there, though it is essential for any change to happen to do what you didn’t do before. Nevertheless, the world the average western citizen lives in, there seems to be so much to lose that there is always a reason to choose the familiar path.

Educate Yourself

Regardless of what you think you might lose, I know the first step to beat this paradox is to get familiar with the unknown. Educate yourself on subjects that are relevant to what you want to do different, talk or look up people online that are in similar situations like you, and start questioning everything you assume normal. All of this information will enable you to shed a little more light in the darkness ahead.

Obvious as this advice may seem, the more contradictory the decision you want to make in your life, the more paralyzing the ambiguity effect can be.

You’d better remember at this moment then, that there are 7 billion people living on this planet. It’s therefore almost impossible that what you want to do hasn’t been done before. The trick is to filter all the information that is at your disposal and you might realize that this is a non-argument.

Until the same source of information gives you arguments that justify your paralysis, and you’re back at the beginning.

Get Familiar With the Process and Fail More

The clue therefore doesn’t lie in acquiring the relevant information, but in getting familiar with the process itself.

As soon as you start trying to realize a lifestyle according to your rules you are bound to fail. And to be honest, the sooner the better. The more you fail the more you will learn, and the sooner you will get it right.

Another thing to remember is that as soon as the ambiguity effect starts strangling your existence – that even though you don’t see it right now – when you make a decision other opportunities will arise. After however, not before you have made that decision.

Dealing With Ambiguity

I recently gave up on validating my physical therapy diploma in Brazil. I had a hard time finding the right phone numbers of the person responsible in this process. My previous experiences with Brazilian bureaucracy, the unclear requirements for the necessary documentation, and the fact that every single person I reached on the phone didn’t really know what I was talking about. I gave into the ambiguity.

When I tried again later on, I knew what was coming and wasn’t set back by the chaos of not knowing as much. I found the right phone number, reached the right person in two calls and a couple of hours later I was sitting at his desk. He was kind and forthcoming, and explained exactly how and what I had to do.

On a similar note people tend to conceive my dietary choice as restricting. Since I aim to eat a whole foods plant-based diet, I avoid all animal products and if possible processed food. Go into the average kitchen and there will be little left to eat. However, as soon as you look through my eyes you will notice the abundance of food and combinations available.

Not before you have deliberately chosen a direction, you will become aware of new opportunities.

roadsign-in-snow

I believe it is essential to realize that you never know all the parts that make up a decision, and that past experiences are usually far from sufficient to provide a solid foundation for future decisions. The only way to figure out what works, is to try, fail, learn, and try again.

Is There Another Way To Live Life?

Retirement is Worst-Case-Scenario Insurance.

Tim Ferris

I read Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Workweek, which turned out to be a conflicting experience. Only until the very last pages I realized why this book provoked this sentiment in me. In there he provides his perspective on the regular 9-5 work structure, and the knowledge and tools to get away from that.

Mobility

The single most important tool in this process, he argues, is mobility. The ability to generate income from anywhere you want. If you are an employee this ideally means “working from home”. When you have your own business, the trick is to create a product or service that can be offered online. Finally, another fully explored option in the book is to fully automatize your company, if it’s not suitable for the internet.

Anyway, all well so far, the thing is though that mister Ferris earned 5 figures a month on the time of writing that book. Easy talking for him right?

I don’t think so. The fact that he earns a lot of money does not mean, that money is the only tool to get what you “want”. If you want to be a millionaire it’s probably not because of all the paper you can now stuff your mattress with, but the possibilities that come as a consequence.

The 80-20 Principle

It is nice therefore, that money is not the only way to get those things. When you work from 9-5, there is a high chance that what you are doing could be done in a lot less time. The 80-20 Principle, striking similarities to Matthews Law that I mentioned in another blog, was introduced by economist Vilfredo Pareto. It dictates that 80% of the output gets generated by 20% of the input.

80% of consequences result from 20% of the causes, 80% of the results from 20% of effort and time, 80% of a company’s revenue will be generated by 20% of the products and customers, and 20% of the people have 80% of the financial capacity. This list is endless and encompasses even your clothes. 80% of the time you wear 20% of what’s in your wardrobe. The division is often more extreme than it is less, 85-15 or 90-10 is not uncommon. So when we talk about your clothes for example, why would you hold on to that 80 percent? And why should you engage in that 80% of work that only generates 20% more output?

Even though, it seems counter intuitive, give it a try. Show your boss, professor, or most importantly yourself, what quality you can provide in 20% of the time. Nobody will probably notice, because the fine tuning you do for 80% of the time usually does not create anything of value.

When you redesign your life this way, you are already getting closer to living like a millionaire right? And you haven’t earned a penny more than before!

Retirement

Then, for a couple of years already I have been wondering about the value of retirement.

old-couple-on-porch
Why wait until your retirement?

Why the hell should I wait until I am 65 to have all the time in the world to do everything I have been wanting to do for 40 years?

Only if you believe that money is an end-goal and security isn’t a sensation but an externally acquirable object, retirement is for you.

I conceive money as a tool, and security as a sensation that doesn’t depend on money. Then how does retirement still make sense? Only if you don’t like your job. When you consider this information, and The Four Hour Workweek gives you plenty ideas and insights on how to do this, there are plenty possibilities to start doing the things you want now.

Those three months turned into 15, and I started to ask myself, “Why not take the usual 20-30 year retirement and redistribute it throughout life instead of saving all for the end?

Tim Ferris

To me, it doesn’t make sense to wait to go rock climbing when you are seventy, start learning a new language when you can only use it for 10 more years, or start hanging out with your family when you can’t lift your children up anymore. Why not start now?

What The Four Hour Workweek Did With Me

I find that the book does a great job putting these decisions in your face. However, it might just be that you are happy where you are, right?

If yes, that’s amazing. I wasn’t sure while reading. I was continuously imagining living in Thailand. I would take a sabbatical, find an opportunity to create some small revenue online, and take up mini-pensions every two years. I felt increasingly conflicted and unhappy with my current situation.

A day later I was walking back home after stopping by the supermarket. I was carrying two backpacks on my back and stomach, full of groceries, wearing my sunglasses even though sun was down. Overthinking the book, I realized: I already live this life. I don’t know if there was anybody watching me but it must have been funny to see a tall gringo, with two backpacks, and sunglasses, laughing like a maniac.

Where Tim Ferris calls it The Four Hour Workweek, I call it living an authentic life, true to your desires. In both cases the lifestyle design is the process to realize evermore of the way of life you want to live. I know that it helps immensely to expand your knowledge, see how others write the rules to their life, and understand your own reasons for working and motivations in life. After reading this book, I realized that that is what this blog is about. I am happy to have figured that out after 9 months!

 

 

Are You Feeling the Vibe?

The Law of Vibration states that anything that exists in our universe, whether seen or unseen, broken down into and analyzed in it’s purest and most basic form, consists of pure energy or light which resonates and exists as a vibratory frequency or pattern.

This one is for all the die-hard materialists out there. Turns out with the recent developments in quantum physics (the study of small particles) that everything in its smallest form is immaterial. Chairs, like cars, bricks, the road, noise, visual images and your thoughts, are all in its essence, vibration.

This vibration travels in waves. As waves are the direction of, for example sound, the vibration is the proof that the wave is there. When this wave reaches our ears, this input gets processed by our brain into something we could consider as music. Even though everything is fundamentally vibration, there are differences in frequencies. Because of these variations we are able to discriminate a chair from a table, and our mother from our father.

Furthermore, the brain not only processes waves, it vibrates by itself as well. The thoughts that pass through are vibration, just like the emotions and states of mind that are experienced as a consequence.

Taking this a step further, you might have noticed how when you feel good, good things happen more often. All of a sudden you find a job, meet your partner, and you lose weight. There is a law that I believe can be applied to this phenomenon. It’s called the Matthew Principle. It dictates the following: “to every one who has, will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” This quote comes from the Bible, as Matthew was one of Jesus’ disciples. The easy version of this law is “the richer get richer and the poorer get poorer.”

This law applies to economics, status, and fame. Once you have more, you get more.

stars
The bigger the star, the more matter it attracts

However, it seems that this could be a universal law. When you look at the population of

cities (a very small number have almost all the people), the frequency of words in language (90% of communication occurs using just 500 words), and the mass of heavenly bodies (the bigger the star the more matter it attracts). I wonder therefore, could this also apply to vibration?

 

I wonder therefore, could this also apply to vibration?

Negative thought processes attract more negativity. Pain feels worse, and your self image gets darker and darker. On the other hand positive thoughts, produce positive emotions, make you feel good, relax your body and increase your self image.

We measure the body according to centimeters, kilograms and things like kilo joul, even though its essential make up is made of the same things as our thoughts. Therefore, borders only exist in the reality as we create it today. It is way more subtle and sensitive than “a centimeter” or a “kilogram”. Therefore, subtle changes affect a lot more than we can perceive with our senses. Being grateful, acts of kindness, eating healthier, drinking more water and working on relaxation literally changes your vibe.

If you reinforce this pattern you will, I believe according to Matthews Principle, attract more positive vibrations, coming at a lower investment.

So, does this mean that by aligning your thoughts and drinking more water, that you will be invincible? It might, or not. However, the clue is to stop seeing cancer as something different than your thoughts, and the way you walk as something different than the way you talk. Applying this knowledge into your all day everyday would mean that you take care of your rest, sleep enough, drink enough, stress less, eat well, move often, and keep a positive mental attitude. Because, the accumulative effort will make a difference.

Even if you are skeptical about this idea, if you take care of your self in the above mentioned ways you are raising your vibe. If you are aiming for it or not. There are a million ways to address things, but you have to figure out what works for you. Nevertheless, when you feel the vibe, you might notice that everything is connected.

How Culture Alters Your Brain

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.

Mahatma Gandhi

With it’s many aspects culture might seem like a fixed upon itself standing phenomenon. It is not what it looks like though. Culture would not exist without our collective belief. To grow up in a certain place you become part of a culture, not because you chose this, but because everybody in your environment is living this way. If you want it or not, your entire life is interconnected with this creation.

Another way to look at it, is to imagine you are a mirror and culture is a giant painting. The more you walk in front of it, the more will stick to your mirror. You become increasingly a reflection of the paining, and eventually it does not matter anymore if the painting is around or not, for you to reflect it.

However, if your parents have different values than the world around you and raise you their way, conflict can occur. I both experienced this with clients who fled their country as a consequence of political instability, but also when I was traveling myself.

In this case the way I was brought up did not fit my new environment and consequently made me question both the (new) world around me, just as much reflecting on where I come from. I remember when I went to Palestine for an internship. I found it intensely annoying when there were moments I literally had nothing to do until the moment I had to do everything at once. This felt so inefficient and did not agree with the idea of time and planning that I grew up with. Similarly, I now live in Brazil where time also has a different meaning, and to make an appointment doesn’t necessarily mean that you made it.

In the following research you can see how profoundly culture affects our brain. Researchers found fascinating differences between native Chinese, and native English speakers. They looked at what parts of the brain showed activity when native Chinese speakers solved the same mathematical formula as native English speakers. They found that when the Chinese solved the formula there was more activity in the areas connected with visual and movement information. Whereas in the case of the English speakers, there was more activity in the sound and language areas. An explanation might be that in the Chinese language there is more emphasis on images and writing, and in the English language more on language processing and verbal information.

Thus, it seems that culture literally affects the way we are programmed. Nevertheless, at the same time it cannot exist without our collective belief. This does mean then, that culture can change. Since it is the result of many people believing it, it will only change when a tipping point is reached. When one person stops believing the status quo, nothing will happen. When one fourth of the population starts perceiving it’s culture differently, things are bound to shift.

This rigidity can be found in the way women still receive less salary than man in western Europe. Even though, it is generally accepted that there is no reason for them to be payed unequally. This form of underpayment is a consequence of beliefs held tens of years ago. Nowadays, the majority of people belief differently, still the fact that this idea was a basic part of yesterdays culture makes it hard to erase within a decade. Only when the old generation of beliefs disappear, new ideas can settle in.

Another example of this are (old) taboos like having sex before marriage, or not marrying at all, even though you are together with somebody for a long time. In Bolivia for example, I was told that these are taboos, where in the Netherlands both are perceived as normal. As a consequence, somebody thinking about not marrying in Bolivia might feel ashamed or frustrated, where in the Netherlands a person contemplating the same thought might experience nothing different than when he or she thinks of coffee.

saltflats
The amazing salt flats in Uyuni, Bolivia. Also the country, where it is a taboo not to marry when you stay together with someone.

I believe it important to know that the connections between our thoughts, emotions, behavior, and culture are inevitable. Or like Mahatma Gandhi said: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Then, when you are aware of the subjectivity of culture, you have the opportunity to revalue any concept that is part of it.

How You Are Being Programmed Without Knowing It

If they fire together, they wire together.

Donald Hebb

This famous theory was articulated in the 1940’s by neuroscientist Donald Hebb. He described in his book The Organization of Behavior, how, when various neurons in our brain “fire” together, they “wire” together.

Easier said, this means that when you see your neighbor driving a new blue Volkswagen, the neurons in your brain remembering your neighbor will fire up, just like where the image of the car is represented. From that moment on, you will associate this blue Volkswagen with your neighbor.

Another example of this mechanism is when you smell a particular type of pie, that reminds you of your grandmother. Also, when you are playing soccer, and the ball crosses the white line on the side, you know you have to throw it in again. In both of the aforementioned situations there was a moment, where you learned that the ball crossing the white line means something, and that the smell of pie usually occurs at your grandmother’s. At these moments there were (at least) two neurons firing togetherand therefore wiring together.

However, the stimulation of the two variables needs to be repeated, for it to stick long term. Therefore, when two neurons fire together more often, they form a stronger association.

Now imagine this, you leave your house in the morning, headphones on and you are listening to the latest Coldplay album. You walk to the bus stop, where upon arrival you see a poster sliding by. You see a beautiful woman, looking happy, using a L’Oreal product, followed by a SUV in mountainous terrain.

suvxmountains
SUV x mountainous terrain = sense of adventure

According to “if they fire together, they wire together”, in this story there are either new connections being made, or old ones being strengthened. Important to realize is, that it is not necessary to be consciously present for this mechanism to work. The biggest part of our consciousness, is subconscious. This means that if you do not try be aware of it, you will barely notice it.

modelofconsciousness
Division of our mind

Nevertheless, when the L’Oreal commercial flashes by there is a connection being made between women, probably “prettiness”, and L’Oreal. Just like the Ford SUV, and the mountainous terrain provoke a feeling of adventure. From that moment on you will be more likely to associate these two things. This all depends however, on who you are. Man are more likely to be impressed by the Ford advertising, where women are more likely to be affected by the L’Oreal poster. On top of this all, the fact that you were listening to Coldplay at the time, might make it a trigger to think of these commercials or the feelings they provoked.

None of these associations are being formed because you were asking for it. Rather, they are a consequence of ingenuous marketing targeting your subconscious. This is all based on the idea that emotions drive behavior.

The idea of advertising is to provoke positive emotions in your subconscious.

Even though, marketing companies try to increase the likelihood you will buy their product, a lot of similar mechanisms are going on without their interference.

When we grow up for example, certain behavior is being encouraged, where other is being discouraged. Hitting your little brother will usually not be accepted, but brushing your teeth will. These cues from your parents provoke emotions. Hopefully, as a consequence you will associate positive emotions with brushing your teeth to feel the contrary when you hit your little brother.

At this age, an argument based on the long term consequences of not brushing your teeth will have little effect. Even though, in adulthood we might understand this better, still it is far from the deciding factor in our behavior.

As things go, most of these mechanisms are at work without our attention. Over the years you grew up, your parents might have only given you affection when you perform well in school, or your friends only thought you cool when you were hateful against the history teacher. Where nowadays, your boss only approves of you, when you care more about results than the happiness of your colleagues.

However, do you agree with this? Do you feel these emotions should be triggered in these situations? Is what you believe really what you value, or is it only because some ancient program is triggering “positive” emotions that otherwise have no real meaning. Once you realize this though, you have the opportunity to change.