Topic

Mindfulness

Reframing our perspective in order to find a greater sense of peace with ourselves and the world.

Velcro for Wellbeing

Some people call it contentment. I prefer the phrase “ambient joy,” because it speaks to the subtle bliss we get from the total effects of the little things in life.

Studies show that regularly writing down the things you're grateful for can have a profound impact on your emotional wellbeing. Here's Jenée Desmond-Harris writing for Vox:

There's a growing body of serious research that expressing gratitude can really, concretely make your life better. The best part is, you don't even have do to any mental contortions to make sure you feel it — you can just go through the motions of acting as if you do.

The findings are dramatic. The practice of gratitude (which can truly be as simple as jotting down notes about what you're thankful for) has been called "velcro" for wellbeing and deemed "the new willpower."

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are some of the little things I'm grateful for:

When we give thanks for the little things, they help hold together the tapestry of a life well-lived.

And of course, I'm grateful for many things that are not so little, including the people like you who take time to read my work.

As always, thanks for reading.

Conducting

There’s no shortcut to being healthy, fit, calm, and content.

Maintaining that place of wellbeing comes from so many different areas: Nutrition, exercise, relationships, work, medical care, sleep, mindfulness, your physical environment, and more.

Like in music, if one instrument is off, everything can fall apart. A piano with just a handful of out-of-tune keys can muddy the entire song.

It’s a balancing act. Your wellbeing is a symphony, and you are the conductor.

Hydrogen

A lot of mindfulness advice essentially comprises different strategies for looking at the world differently – to change the stories you're telling yourself in order to see your situation a bit more objectively.

When you're feeling stressed, anxious, or otherwise underwater, having tactics to help you resurface – even if only for a moment – can make a big difference.

So here's a reminder from astronomer and cosmologist Edward Robert Harrison you can hold on to when you're in need of a little perspective:

"Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people."

Or, leave hydrogen alone long enough, and it will eventually start to document its origin.

We are a product of the universe's attempt to understand itself.

As philosopher and writer Alan Watts put it:

"We do not 'come into' this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean 'waves,' the universe 'peoples.' Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”

Breath

Breath is important in so many types of meditation because it's the one automatic process in our body we can control. As such, it serves as a little window into our subconscious.

You can't manually beat your heart by thinking about it, but breath is different. You can control it, but most of the time, we don't have to think about it.

Just asking the question "how fast am I breathing?" is enough to change your awareness.

And awareness is always the first step to change.

And yet,
Every breath we take
Is a prayer.
A sort of quiet yearning
For the rapture we feel
When a warm breeze
On a cool summer night
Fills our lungs
With hope.

Breathe in.
This is the only moment.
Breathe out.

Set Out to Be Wrecked

I love the opening line of J. M. Barrie's The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island: “We set out to be wrecked."

I think about it every time I play the card game rummy 500.

During the game, players can choose to pick up a single card from the draw pile on their turn or pick up lots of cards from the discard if they're able to use the bottom card in a meld.

There are lots of advantages to picking up more cards. It increases the number of ways you can score points, and you get to immediately receive the points for the initial meld.

The downside is that you can become overleveraged and struggle to get rid of a bunch of cards that aren't useful. Every card you don't meld counts against your score at the end of the round. But despite the risk, I always pick up as many cards as I can.

In other words, I set out to be wrecked every time.

I don't play to win, I play to fail. Because when your potential upside involves absolutely demolishing your opponents every once in a while, losing most of the time is so much more entertaining.

When we embrace the possibility – or likelihood – of failure, life becomes much more fun.

See also: This Might Not Work

But We've Always Done it This Way

When faced with a decision to make, it's tempting to pick the way we've always done something. It's safe. If it worked last time, why change it?

But this is a trap. Last year's success may no longer be possible in the same way, so even if we want to keep things the same, we have to change too.

To be clear, it's OK to decide to do something the same way we did it last time. But we should do so having first considered the alternatives and opportunity costs.

Trying to keep everything the same comes from a place of fear. Change is associated with risk, and most of us would like to limit uncertainty as much as possible.

But embracing the possiblity of change allows us to make the decisions that lead to success. And when that success lasts long enough for us to look back and say, "But we've always done it this way," we can pause to remind ourselves that nothing lasts forever.

The Snowball Effect

As we get older, we’re able to find more of what make us happy: The extra minty toothpaste, soft sheets, best friends, scented candles, calming spots in nature, and much more.

I call this the snowball effect. With the right mindset, we can cultivate a life that brings us a sense of ambient joy as we roll along. It’s not constant bliss, just a persistent, subtle feeling of contentment that contributes to our overall momentum.

As we accumulate more snow, our sense of gratitude for everyday life increases too.

Here's to the things, places, and people that enrich our lives.

See also: Velcro for Wellbeing

Memorize Poetry

Memorizing a poem brings the text closer to you. Once you've internalized it, you can carry it with you wherever you go. It becomes like a little, secular prayer you can hold close to your heart and return to whenever you need it.

If you're looking for one to start with, here's an excerpt of "The Call of the Wild" by Robert W. Service:

Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the wild is calling, calling . . . . let us go.

Quit Something

In the caption for a video they recently produced for The New York Times, Lindsay Crouse and Kirby Ferguson write:

It’s been a brutal few years. But we’ve gritted through. We’ve spent time languishing. We’ve had one giant national burnout. And now, finally, we’re quitting.

We are quitting our jobs. Our cities. Our marriages. Even our Twitter feeds.

And as we argue in the video above, we’re not quitting because we’re weak. We’re quitting because we’re smart.

When something isn’t working, and you want to improve the situation, you have two options: Make it better, or quit.

Quitting can be painful, but sometimes making something better just isn’t worth it. Persistence is important, but so is freeing up your physical and mental energy to focus on what matters most.

In a similar spirit, this quote from The Tim Ferriss Show has stuck with me ever since I heard it:

"If you want to really challenge yourself, turn down an opportunity and take a nap."

I regret to say I can’t find which episode it’s from or who said it. But I love the way it inverts the traditional mindset of high achievers.

Want to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Quit something and go rest.

Lean Into Uncertainty

When you're teaching a kid to ride a bicycle, the best way to empower them is to skip the training wheels and give them a balance bike.

A balance bike has just two wheels, but no pedals, which requires kids to use their legs to propel themselves forward. By withholding the sense of security that comes from training wheels, balance bikes help kids develop greater confidence, strength, and independence – even long before they're physically ready for a traditional, pedal-powered bike.

It's easy to forget once you're a confident rider, but biking is a precarious exercise. The only thing keeping you upright is your forward momentum, which means that to learn how to ride, you must overcome the feeling of uncertainty. You have to train yourself to quickly accelerate past the speed at which you'll just topple over.

Since nothing in life is certain, this serves as a useful metaphor for whenever you're feeling unsteady: Lean into the uncertainty and just keep pedaling.

Your momentum will keep you upright.

See also: Stop Pedaling

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