Meditation is often seen as one of those ridiculous, new age things that can’t possibly be rooted in science.  Why should anyone take sitting in the floor with your eyes closed while humming “ommm” to yourself seriously?  I don’t blame anyone for scoffing at the practice.  I usually tend to smirk to myself when I hear people talking about homeopathic treatments that have no scientific legs to stand on.  But meditation has been subjected to many studies over recent years, and the results have been really exciting.

Scientists have been looking at meditation since the 1950’s and basically a new subfield of neuroscience has resulted.  They’ve hooked all kinds of people to all kinds of machines to study how the practice affects the brain and the body.  When they look at the meditating brain in real time, they can see that it’s actually rewiring itself.  The unhappy are actively making themselves happier, the stressed less stressed, and those in chronic pain have found relief, not by way of any placebo effect, but through the mind-altering effects of meditation.  

As a naturally stressed person, I decided to try meditation about a year ago after looking at all the research.  I started with simple breathing for 10 minutes everyday, and then I began focusing on positive energy, until finally I was mostly reflecting on my situation and the greater questions of life.  I have since backslid and want to pick it back up as I go through all the rigors and uncertainties of moving to China.  I’m bringing you guys along for the ride rather than go through a refresher course on my own.

How to Begin

Meditating is one of those things that when you see it, it looks pretty damn easy.  Sure, I can sit in a quiet corner for a few.  But when you do sit down with the intent to meditate, you might find yourself at a loss of how to begin.  You may ask yourself, “Am I doing it?  Am I meditating?”  Probably not.  

First, set aside an appropriate time to meditate.  I used to do it before I went to bed as a way to free my mind, but have since been corrected.  Apparently the best time to do it is in the morning because it gives you new energy, and you’re essentially wasting it by going to sleep afterward.  Well, excussse me (thanks Kate).  Try to find 10 - 20 minutes after you wake up in the morning.

Next, and predictably, find a quiet spot.  Indoors or outdoors both work, but if you live in the mountains, there’s no where more quiet and free of distraction (albeit not very practical to stop at your local mountain on the way to work).  Switch off the TV, dim the lights, and if you have roommates, tell them to leave you alone.  Pop a squat.

Close your eyes, and don’t try to (mentally) do anything immediately.  Just relax, breathe evenly, and slowly drift into a state of relaxation.  Slowly focus on your breathing, the air coming in and the air leaving you.  I’m going to get crunchy here; feel new energy enter you as you inhale and negative energy leaving you as you exhale.  

You can also focus on a mental picture, or a single thought.  The point is to calm the storm in your mind created by work, errands, emotions, and people by centering it on one simple thing.  For a few minutes every day, you are not stressed, you are not worried, you are not angry or sad, you are simply calm.  

Different Types of Meditation

Focused Meditation - The process I described above is a very simple and beneficial meditation practice geared toward decluttering your head.  This is simply a state of being that we’re often too busy to discover within ourselves.  Once you begin to find this state of calm and quiet during your meditation sessions, you will train your brain to slip into this state with more ease throughout everyday life.  Eventually you will be able to accept the same things that usually frustrate you with more peace than inward rebellion.  

Mindfulness Meditation - During mindfulness meditation, you let your mind simply be aware of what’s around you.  You don’t necessarily have to find a quiet spot, because any noise can become part of the meditation.  Just as in focused meditation, breath at a natural rhythm, but don’t focus on anything in particular.  Just let sounds drift over you, whether they be planes, screaming children, or noisy traffic.  Your environment is the tide, and you are simply absorbing it as it ebbs and flows over you.  

Happiness Meditation - We are actually ruled by our genes to a certain extent regarding our personal happiness levels, but meditation is something we can all do to rewire our brains for more positive emotion. Again, follow the same steps above, except this time you will focus on your thoughts and emotions.  Push the negative feelings you have about yourself and others out.  Don’t try to address or solve them, simple breathe the negative energy out, and on the inhales feel the new energy entering your body.  Slowly, you will begin to feel more acceptance of yourself and others.

Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is good for so many reasons…some that have come out of several studies, and others that we will experience on a more individualized level.  

No matter what meditation technique you choose, it will surely neutralize stress and hone your ability to deal with it in real time, when you’re at the office and not in your quiet place.  Eliminating stress from your life will naturally lead to better health.  

Constant stress keeps your body in a prolonged state of fight-or-flight in which your body is savaged by elevated levels of natural hormones and steroids that are only meant to be used for a short time.  When the body must rely on these chemicals constantly for you to accomplish your goals, long-term health effects such as a weakened immune system and cardiovascular problems arise.  Meditate, and your body will thank you.

Other people will thank you, too.  When we focus on positive emotion during meditation, we become happier.  Confronting our personal flaws, acknowledging them, and virtually making peace with ourselves will make us happier.  Consequently, we are more accepting and kind to others despite their flaws.  Can meditation cure my road-rage?  I’m excited to see.  

Meditation seems to be a silver-bullet solution to our physical, mental and emotional well-being, and I will definitely be keeping up with the thinkers who seem to be discovering more good things on this practice constantly.  For now, find a quiet place, say “ommm” if you must, and reap the benefits.  

I was sitting cross-legged in the grass on top of a bald in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, surrounded by blue, hazy vistas on all sides.  Kate and I relished in the satisfaction of the 4-mile hike it took to get there, and in each other.  We were together for the first time in 3 months.  I bit into a crisp apple, and let the crunch, the sweetness, the wind envelop me in a profound snapshot of self-actualization.  I was completely happy, burdened by nothing in the moment.

It seems like some people can access moments like these on the fly, while the rest of us struggle for that obscure and elusive notion that is happiness for our entire lives.  Are some people just naturally more happy?  Yes, actually.  Happiness is in our genes.  A staggering 50% of our happiness levels are determined by genetics.  On top of that, outside circumstances that are mostly beyond our control determine another 10%.  Well, shit, if you’re naturally not a very happy person, where does that leave you?

Fear not, we still have another 40% to play around with that comes from our intentional activities.  We’re indeed the masters of our own destinies.  Along my personal journey down the minimalist path over the years I’ve been trying to pin down some of these intentional activities so that I may be more mindful of life’s journey and, of course, happier along the way.  These are a few things that I’ve been doing lately to maximize my happiness level.

Count your blessings.

Okay, cheesy advice, I know.  But whenever I get stressed out about some complete first-world problem, after a little bit of reflection on what I have and just how easily my situation could be much worse…I feel better.  A couple of images out of Syria are enough to make that annoying thing at work you have to do a task to be embraced.  A lot of us really don’t know how well we’ve got it, and taking a step back and actually looking at all the positives relative to the rest of the world really make the not so great parts of life seem trivial and almost shameful to dwell on.

Don’t let happiness be determined by benchmarks.

Even up until very recently, I let my happiness be dependent on how much progress I was making at any given moment with my massive to-do list.  While I love making lists, this is one of their drawbacks.  They create a sense of urgency if there’s many items yet to be checked off, even if you have all the time in the world to complete them.  Then you just feel guilty if you’re trying to catch up on Game of Thrones when you could be writing a blog post.  Use the list as a tool and nothing more.  There’s no point in rooting your happiness in achieving some huge benchmark far off into the future because our grand to-do lists will always be changing, and you will find more happiness living in the moment anyway.

Draw a firm line between work and leisure.

This is so important!  As soon as I leave my job on Friday, I sign out of the school’s Gmail account on all of my devices.  I do not bring work home with me.  Even my writing, which I love to do, takes a backseat to cracking open a few cold ones on at least one day during the weekend.  Establish one day of the week that’s full of things you love to do.  Knock back some beers, go out with friends, hike up a mountain, or stay in and read a book.  Just don’t work, and try to avoid errands if it can be helped.  It’s your sanity day, and a leap forward to achieving an ideal work-life balance, something that’s sure to make us all a lot happier.

Go for a run.

I try to go running as much as possible.  Apart from the obvious health benefits, it does actually get you high.  Running, as well as sex, food, and pain, send a rush of endorphins to your brain.  Endorphins are basically a natural drug in your body that trigger the brain’s opioid receptors to ease pain or reward you for things like eating ice cream and getting laid.  Also for running.  I feel much happier after an hour-long run.  Endorphins aside, it gives me time to think.  I’ve probably worked out some of life’s biggest problems on long runs while falling inadvertently into deep pits of meditation.  The inner-peace and free Vicodin from my body both make me happier.

Sit and meditate for a spell.

Speaking of meditation, this is another action we can take to increase our happiness.  In fact, it’s actually been proven to rewire our brains to experience more positive emotion.  Now, there are several different types, from simple meditation of just focusing on your breathing or specific area of the body, to more complex states of analyzing your thoughts and emotions.  Ironically, hardcore meditators get worked up over what is and isn’t meditation.  Some say if you think too much, you’re doing it wrong, but I disagree.  I could write a whole post on meditation, and you know what?  I think I will next week.  Right now, just know that it will make you happier.

Rationalize life’s problems.

Stress can definitely eat away at our happiness, and we should keep it in check before it snowballs into something that creates frequent tension headaches.  Like most things, I prefer to use logic and reason to acknowledge the stuff I can control and the stuff I can’t.  I put my problems in their appropriate boxes.  Make a list.  One side has negative things (relationships, projects at work, diet, anything) that you can change, the other has things you can’t change.  Jot down ideas for how you will change the things you can, and how you can at least improve the situations that you can’t.  Systematically snipe away your stress in this way and become happier.

You Are in Control

So maybe we’re somewhat at the mercy of our genes when it comes to happiness.  But there are still so many things we can do to augment that 40% we have control over.  Think about what you have, even if you don’t have much, odds are you have more than you think.  Get out of your planning books for a while and worry only about the present day.  Learn how to separate your work from your downtime.  Chill hard when you can.  Running gets you high and meditation gets you enlightened.  Rationalize what stresses you out instead of letting it rule your world.  Try working some of these things into your life slowly and perhaps the filter you perceive life through will begin to gradually brighten.

For more on the science and different factors behind happiness, check out the super interesting documentary Happy on Netflix.

 

“Hey, can you help me with this thing that you probably have little to no interest in doing, because I procrastinated for too long?”  No.  “Hi, I don’t know you, but can you come to my kid’s piano recital?”  No.  “We’re starting this new bi-weekly community thingy —”  No, no, no, a million times no.  Sometimes the right answer is a simple, but polite, “no.”

We all have stress in our lives, and it comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some good, some bad, some more or less than others, imagined, or very real and overwhelming.  Stress creates undulating waves of pressure and unease that pervade our minds, and if left unchecked, our bodies.  Its nebulous nature can make it hard to pin down sometimes.  Ironically, the only way to conquer it is to do just that.  

If we want more room to breathe in our lives, we have to eliminate stress while also adding a filter that selectively allows more good stress.  This filter should prevent petty and unnecessary obligations from being added to our already busy lives, and preserve a comfortable pace of living that allows us to maintain a comfortable line of balance between life and work.  However, this filter should allow opportunities that could benefit us and amplify our experience.

1. Identify the stress you already have.

The first logical step before taking on any additional obligations is to be aware of everything you already have going on.  Half the time we’re so stressed because we don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, or when it needs to be done by.  We need to organize the shitstorm we already have building in our brains before we let anything else in from the outside (that we have control over).  The best way to do that is to make a list.  Traditionally, I use pen and paper but recently I’ve taken a liking to WorkFlowy, a list app for the web, iPhone, and iPad.

2. Filter out petty obligations.

Stop doing things that don’t maximize your time and enjoyment.  Stop doing things simply to please people who are barely acquaintances, let alone friends.  It is absolutely not wrong at all to be selfish sometimes.  We only have so much of ourselves to give, and we should choose wisely when faced with relinquishing even the smallest piece to to someone else.  The time you spent making a flyer for someone who “heard you knew how to use Photoshop” and didn’t want to spend money on a designer could have been spent reading a book.

3. Let in opportunities.

Some obligations can be life-enriching opportunities.  The trick is taking the time to identify them before having a gut response to the person in the hallway asking something of you.  Could I use the article this person wants me to write in my portfolio?  Better yet, a “let me get back to you” while you consult the list you made earlier would be a great move.

I realize that this way of thinking sounds pretty selfish to a lot of people, but just think about it.  You have one life.  You should look out for yourself in that short duration instead of continually worrying about pleasing people that have no bearing your life.  

Genuinely wanting to help someone is completely different.  Helping someone just because you want to appear a certain way to them and others taxes your time and is disingenuous.  It’s much easier and much less stressful to be honest with them, and use your precious time the way you choose to.

Obligations are one of several components that comprise the substance I call mental clutter.  It’s trickier to get rid of than clutter in the physical realm because we can’t see it until we make an effort to be more mindful of it.  Getting rid of it has the same freeing effects: more time, more energy, and room to breathe.  So stop picking up the slack for others and spend that time creating, traveling, hiking, running, knitting, reading, partying, reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.

You are so busy that you feel like you are going to have a panic attack and/or brain aneurysm.  The worst part is that you don’t really have a concrete idea of what you’re supposed to be doing; you just know you’re busy.  We’ve all been there.  The solution is literally thousands of years old!

That’s right, some of the earliest writings (that archaeologists surely enjoyed weeks of excited banter over when they were discovered) amount to nothing more than grocery lists.  Do as the ancients did and prioritize by taking the stress out of your mind and putting it on paper.

When it comes to the list, it is a matter of personal preference.  Some people don’t like looking at a monster with twenty things and counting on it.  I personally think it can be therapeutic.  

When I’m stressed, everything is bouncing off the walls in my head and it’s hard to know what to do first.  When I have a visual representation of that stress, I can develop a plan of attack and I know I can conquer it.

I have a strategy when it comes to lists.  Sorry if I’m over-complicating something simple, but this really works for me!

1. The Weekly List - This list is for the short-term.  I make it every Sunday night, including every due date (that I’m aware of) for class assignments, meeting dates for group work, and mundane chores like paying bills.  I hate this list, because it takes up the majority of my time, time that could be spent working on…

2. The Creative List - Here, I organize my design work for clients and any creative project that I have decided to go forward with, whether it be music, art, or writing.  In an ideal world, I would love to concentrate on this list and hone my creative skills.  Unfortunately, that is not the case as long as I am in college and classes are in session. I would say that these are somewhere in limbo between short-term and long-term goals.

3. The Life List - This is where I put my long-term life goals.  It is essentially my bucket list.  Currently, I have things ranging from learning a foreign language to writing a full-fledged novel to creating my own roast of coffee.  Diverse, I know.  Whenever I am able to cross just one item off this list, a celebration is in order.

4. The Budget List - I am a strong proponent of not buying crap you don’t need, which more often than not, is the majority of things I want to buy.  So I make a list to keep my consumerism in check.  I try to keep this one as short as possible and never, NEVER deviate from it (i.e. going on a random clothing splurge, or impulse buying anything).  I need these things.  Right now I’m considering hosting for my graphic design site as well as new business cards.  In other words, these are investments.

Knowing When It’s Time to Drop Weight

Sometimes we make the mistake of taking too much on at one time.  We stress ourselves out so much that we find we are not enjoying life for days, weeks even (months?!), at a time.  During this time, it may be necessary to table something and just forget about it for a while.  

If you try to broaden your focus too much, you will start seeing mediocrity in several areas of your life, and it sucks and is very disheartening.  I know this from experience, and I know how to recognize it.  There is as much of an art to knowing when it’s time to let something go than there is to making the list in the first place.

Recognizing an overfilled plate is a key discipline in the art of the list.  Sometimes we just have to put some Saran wrap over it and stick it in the fridge for a while.

Currently I’m on my flight for Iceland, which seems to have no problem with sitting on the tarmac for eternity.  I’m writing this in my journal for no other reason than to forget how badly I have to go to the toilet.  That’s what you get for having a couple of drinks before boarding.

Interesting update: the captain says we are late because we are waiting on an offload of four tons of fish.  Well, I suppose it’s a good thing I love seafood.  Ok, screw it.  Going to see if I can get into that water closet before take off.  Curse you, Bjarni, for taking an earlier flight and leaving half a beer behind.

Success!  To bring this train of thought back into the station, I’m taking close to a month-long sabbatical in Iceland.  It’s time to gather myself once more in preparation for the new year.  I need some R & R & R (rest, relaxation, reflection).

What is a sabbatical exactly?  Basically a hiatus from life.  It’s a period of time that one sets aside to recover, reflect, and find new inspiration.  It’s the absence of stress, or at least an antidote for it.  And it’s no secret that I’ve been stressed lately.  It’s as simple as I just burned myself out, to the point that everything I did, including things I love (like writing), seemed merely arbitrary.  

Some people say it’s impossible to lose interest in something if you’re truly passionate about it.  This is simply untrue, in my humble opinion.  It is possible to take on so much that you create a perfect storm, from which a 10,000 pound anvil falls out of the sky and hits you so hard on the head that you lose focus for a good while.  This moment seems to be an annual occurrence for me, but the anvils seem to be starting to weigh a bit less ever since I began to live more simply.

So now I’m in this figurative ICU in Iceland, recovering from the last huge whollop to the head, and letting my blurry vision return to focus on what really matters in my life, and is worth doing.  Currently I’m doing absolutely nothing besides reflecting on my time in Sweden, enjoying the holidays, relishing in the nature of Iceland, and thinking about the new year.

Everyone should take time off.  Be lazy for a bit.  I’m not just rationalizing my own laziness, though.  This sabbatical thing has it’s own legs to stand on as a super beneficial rite:

1. For Good Health - When we are stressed our bodies are technically in fight-or-flight mode, which means increased levels of adrenaline and other hormones like cortisol.  We mainly use our body’s stress-response system to get us out of short-term dicey situations.  Unfortunately, we sometimes get ourselves involved in long-term stress situations, whether it be a hectic job or a toxic relationship, and the stress-response system remains active until the body’s perceived threat has passed.  Getting roided up with adrenaline and hormones for a prolonged period of time is obviously not good for you.  Take time off and get your levels back to normal.  Wean yourself from five cups a day to maybe two, eat a bit healthier, exercise more, and rest.

2. Assess Your Life - A sabbatical is a departure from normalcy.  You remove everything from your life temporarily so you can lay it all out on the table in front of you.  It’s an opportunity to examine what you’ve been up to lately without being in the midst of it all.  Picture a special realm where all of your problems, responsibilities, and relationships are completely separated from you.  You have the chance to pick and choose which of these is really important to you.  Once you decide, you can cut out the chaff.  Then you go back into the real world with an eased mind, a lighter heart, and a brighter spirit.  Taking time to assess your life and what can be removed from it is an exercise in complete rejuvenation.

3. Use it as a Tool - You wouldn’t necessarily think it at first, but a sabbatical can be used as a tool to enhance productivity and innovation.  We go somewhere we love to take time off.  For me, it’s nature, so I chose Iceland, a country with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.  We find inspiration in the places we love.  The inspiration we find can then be funneled back into projects when we return from sabbatical.  Big companies seem to have caught onto this.  Dreamworks, Adobe, and REI are just a few companies that offer paid sabbaticals.  Maybe it’s no coincidence that they are also listed in Fortune’s top 100 best companies to work for.

My last sabbatical was on the Appalachian Trail, and the result was a turning point in my life.  The time I’ve had to myself in Iceland so far has been great, and maybe I’ll write about the results later.  But now I have to go climb some mountains, and do other questionable things that sometimes make me wonder if my Icelandic friends are trying to kill me.

I’m going to get sciency for a bit, but hang in there; I promise it’s a good metaphor.  Homeostasis is the ability of our bodies to maintain equilibrium.  It keeps our temperature regulated, makes sure our immune system kills the right things, and so many other functions that I can’t begin to bore you with and describe inaccurately.  Basically, it keeps us in a normal state of functioning and being, physiologically, and in some ways, psychologically.

Currently, scratch that, since I’ve been in Sweden, I’ve ultimately failed at maintaining homeostasis within my life.  I am typically very neat and well organized.  My room and work area is spotless, my files are perfectly nested in a well organized hierarchy of folders on my Mac, my inbox is cleaned out everyday, and I have lists of everything I need to do, both for work and everyday life.  

Apparently this makes me boring to some, but it’s how I function, achieve homeostasis, and is ultimately the source of my productivity.  All of that has been out the window for some time now.

As of now, I’m back too my well-organized self.  Everything is in its place.  But I can’t remember the last time I let things careen out of control like this.  I put off my school work for most of the semester, took on too many responsibilities without realizing the monster I was creating for myself, and of course, partied like a rock star.  I began by devoting too much time to my social life and ended with myself entrenched in my apartment pulling a series of all-nighters while neglecting things in my personal life.  Suffice it to say, it sucked, and I’m still recovering from it.

It’s a learning exercise.  I’m traveling, living somewhere else, adapting to a new environment, and planning to do it again, multiple times.  Of course, I must be productive and make money in order for this to be a sustainable way of life.  And it would be helpful to have the ability to adapt to any environment with a creative and working mentality.  To achieve that, homeostasis must be maintained.  But how?  Obviously my first attempt was not a desirable result, but I think I have gleaned a few things from the experience worth sharing, so here they are.

1. Maintain Self-Control - The student life I have experienced in Lund is like nothing I have known before.  Every night there is something to do and often times I’m choosing between three different events on a weekend night.  There’s a lot of room to just go bonkers, basically.  Although I’m very for making the most of experiencing and enjoying a new country, it’s important not to take advantage of that mentality in order to justify buying up the bar every night.  Unless you’re lucky enough to have a trust-fund, you will have responsibilities no matter where you are in the world.  Be conscientious, address what is important, and punctuate it with fun and adventure.

2. Explore New Opportunities Carefully - If you don’t know how to network effectively, simply spend time abroad.  You already have a network where you’ve been living.  It’s just been such a long and natural process that we sometimes don’t recognize the effort.  When you go somewhere new, you start from scratch.  However, you meet people with the same interests no matter what language they speak, and new and exciting opportunities will quickly accumulate in your lap.  It’s a tricky situation.  We naturally want to jump at something in another country because we can establish a presence there.  Thing is, responsibilities take time, and that’s an international fact.  Weigh what is truly important before acting in order to capitalize on your time more efficiently and enjoyably.

3. Organization Enables Focus - It is an impossible feat for me to be able to focus and work in a cluttered environment.  It seems like common sense that a cluttered desk can be distracting and hinder progress, but it’s just one of those things that we say we’ll deal with later.  Luckily, when we live a mobile lifestyle it’s easier to square everything away because we have less stuff.  The toughest part is getting organized mentally and developing a new routine when almost every time you take a stroll outside your door it guarantees a new experience.  Organize your stuff, organize your thoughts, and just establish a firm home base before going crazy.  When its time to work, there will be less to cloud your focus.

The more you know, right?  I had to make some mistakes to learn these few things, even though they seem completely obvious laid out in front of me.  It’s all part of the journey.  Well, I’m currently on sabbatical in Iceland, which I will write about later.  Now I’m feeling lazy and can’t think of a clever way to wrap this up, and I will indulge in every lazy urge while I’m here.  Kind of contradictory to this whole post of getting into equilibrium while you’re traveling.  A sabbatical is a bit special though, and I’ll be writing about why you should take one for my next post.

Decluttering and living with less is a big part of being a minimalist. But sometimes I think too much importance is placed on this aspect, while others are heavily neglected.  The mind can become just as easily cluttered with negativity and stress as your apartment can be with dirty laundry and dishes. In order to transform your life and join this revolutionary movement, you need to start with a liberated mind.

I started thinking about this the other day while reading Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki for one of my classes. The book is about financial intelligence, and is a basic how-to guide on making money work for you instead of vice-versa. A lot of people think that Kiyosaki’s books are just a scam, since he has about twenty of them out. For all I know, they could be.

It doesn’t change the fact that I saw an awesome message in a sentence that had nothing to do with finance: the world is a mirror of you.

I did some research after I finished reading, and I’m pretty sure that Kiyosaki is not the origin of the above quote. I do, however, believe that this is a core concept of minimalism. Take a walk one day. What do you see in the world around you, a realm of hopelessness or of endless possibilities? It depends on your attitude completely.

A positive outlook on life in general is pretty much the foundation of the minimalist lifestyle. If you don’t have that, then all the tips you try to employ from these awesome blogs are just going to fall like a house of cards after a given period of time.

When the mind is hindered by negative emotions and negative stress, you will see it manifest in other areas of your life. You don’t exercise anymore. You eat junk. Maybe you start to drink in excess to deal with the emotions or you start chain-smoking to deal with the stress. And the world just looks bleak.

You think, “How can I possibly overcome this?” How can you make the world a beautiful place to be again? I have a few tips.

1. Write It Down – My first solution to pretty much any situation time and time again is to make a list. What exactly are you dealing with? If you’re juggling a lot of work (or anything really), start listing your goals for the day/week/month. I find it very therapeutic to get all the stress out of my mind and onto a tangible piece of paper. I can look at everything and actually think about it without going insane.

2. Is It Necessary – Do you really need some of the things you’ve written down in your life? You might find that it’s time to start saying no to people. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes. It’s your life, and you should live for yourself and do what makes you happy. Shed obligations that you don’t really care about and have no place in your life.

3. Deal With It – Don’t ignore or accept something that makes you feel bad. You have to nip it in the bud just like you would with any type of physical ailment. You have to treat it. If you’re in a negative relationship, sit down with the people involved and talk things out. Communication is the best medicine. Sometimes things get so infected, that they have to be removed. In the same way, you will sometimes have to severe bad relationships completely to save yourself.

I’m not a psychiatrist by any means, and I know there are some things that a few simple tips can’t cure. The size and quantity of demons varies from person to person, and the ability to deal with them does as well. This is just the process I use to declutter my mind so that I can be a more positive and focused person.

When I get rid of the mind-gunk, I’m cleaning my mirror. I can see the world more clearly and vibrantly. I know where I came from and where I’m going to. My creativity and productivity can flow more freely. And when I see the world like this, I can see myself and know myself. It’s amazing how freeing something as simple as having a positive attitude can be.

I’m sitting on the roof of my favorite coffee shop and enjoying a rare warm November day in the Appalachians as I write this. It’s a beautiful day. I have 1001 things to do right now, but my mirror is clean. It’s nothing less than a beautiful day.

Inhale…exhale. I can finally do that.  I can finally breathe after the business of last week.

Sweden Update

Let’s rewind to the week before last, real quick.  It was a week of sipping Coronas on the beach in South Carolina.  A week that I should have diligently been working on my internship report.  However, I believe in vacations, and I do not vacation half-heartedly. Needless to say, nothing got done, which made for a hellish last week.  Not that I didn’t enjoy it!  But some hell definitely could have been averted.

Back to last week.  In order to get my residence permit for Sweden, I had to travel to the House of Sweden in Washington so that they could take “biometric data” from me.  This includes fingerprints, a photograph, and an electronic signature.  I did have the option to do this upon my arrival in Sweden, but as much as I’m ready for language immersion, I’d rather handle government business in my own.  My first thoughts on the matter were, “My, isn’t this an expensive hassle.”  To tell you the truth, I was kind of excited to see the capital with pseudo-adult eyes, my last trip being in the 5th grade.

The whole trip, which I made with my awesome friend Rachel, was punctuated by the report I should have done.  I gnawed at it a bit the night before I would have my first encounter with Swedes.  The next morning we embarked for the embassy with about 4 hours of sleep in the tank.  We arrived an hour early, so we sat on the embassy steps enjoying some much needed coffee as the Potomac flowed lazily by.  The House of Sweden was a beautiful building, inside and out, and a prime example of minimalist Scandinavian design.

After submitting my data, we walked down Pennsylvania Ave and found a bistro.  I apologized to Rachel in advance, took my MacBook out of my backpack, and destroyed the rest of that report so I could enjoy the rest of the trip.  It was due that evening anyway!  We then saw all the things that make D.C., D.C.  The White House, the Washington Monument, a protest in front of the White House, and even Capitol Hill from afar, the place where grown men are known to bicker like spoiled children.

I feel this is a good example of how clearing out mental clutter is just as important as getting rid of physical clutter when it comes to the minimalist philosophy.  Mental clutter is just as effective at holding you back from enjoying the moment at hand.  As soon as I finished the paper I was free, and I was able to enjoy the significance of finally getting my residence permit.  Bumper-to-bumper traffic even became a little bit more tolerable.

A cluttered mind can also halt creativity in its tracks.  Which can result in delayed blog posts…

Blog Update

So yes, the beach, this paper, and my D.C. trip created the perfect storm which resulted in very few posts over the last two weeks.  I made a poor judgement call starting my Working to Live series right before all this happened.  My intention is to repost the first article tomorrow and continue from there.

I’m going to go ahead and fess up that my initial post rate of “every day” was definitely too ambitious.  There’s no doubt that the quality suffers when you try to crank something out every day, and the phrase “crank out” has connotations in itself.  I prefer “lovingly crafted.”  

At the risk of sounding like a cable guy, I will be posting a large article (500+ words) every Wednesday or Thursday morning.  Whenever I have free time, I’ll do some short posts about the status of my trip, or maybe give a short anecdote and how it relates to minimalism.  There’s no way to avoid this reeking of the obligatory study abroad blog, but I do want it to be more than that at the same time.  My goal is to give low-impact, low-cost travel advice based on my experiences and, more importantly, my mistakes.  

In other words, I want to put advice articles in the context of my own journey in order to help you with yours.

Oh yeah, I will still be reviewing gear I have found to be exceptionally helpful or an exceptional waste of money.

Thanks for reading so far!

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