Zen is a fascinating notion. Often seen as some sort of illusive state, rather than what it really is, a practice. Much like happiness and bitterness, Zen is a choice. A choice to live your life and to view events in a certain way that will maximize the amount of inner peace you experience. There is no magic involved. Theteachings of the stoics are much the same: make the choice to make a practice of viewing life and all that happens with a certain lens and, eventually, that shall be the lens through which you happen to find yourself experiencing life. It is to your benefit to choose a positive lens, and to train yourself to scrupulously distinguish between that within your control and that outside of your control.
As I have noted in the past, one of the main motivations behind this blog is to continue to remind myself of my goals and the things I’ve learned that I believe will help me. And now seems like a timely occasion to remind myself of some of the simple and foundational pieces of a life well lived. A life of Zen.
It really comes down to the small and simple things that we do consistently.
A morning routine meticulously crafted and shaped by your priorities and goals can be a very powerful thing. It sets the tone for the day, and can initiate the good-habit loops you have put in place, reducing the need to rely on such fleeting emotions such as willpower and motivation to get you started on the most important projects of the day.
Below are some things you might consider adding to your morning routine. These things might seem tedious and impossible to implement at first, and they will definitely require some willpower to begin with, but they are not as cumbersome as one may think and the benefits are endless. Once we begin to reap what we’ve sown, it will become simply a desirable part of our day to carry out our morning routine and set each day off in the right way. Because after all, our moments quickly become our days, our days our weeks, and our weeks our lives.
Make the Bed
Yes, as promised, things are really going to get wild up in here. But in all seriousness, developing the simple habit of making my bed almost immediately once I get out of it is an important part of my routine. Not only is it one small, simple and quick act that will make your room seem far tidier throughout the rest of the day, but the consistency of doing something positive day-in, day-out – even if just a task as simple as making the bed – can have a profound psychological effect. Essentially, you are conditioning yourself to do other, more challenging things consistently by winning the little inner battle of ‘do vs. don’t’ first thing, every single morning.
Meditation is a great practice to take on in any part of your day or life. Making it the first thing you do every morning can be particularly powerful. 10-20 minutes is plenty if you’re consistent about it. I started off working my way through the Headspace exercises, and ultimately ended up doing it on my own or with the aid of a few different short guided practices I have come across such as Tara Brach’s Smile Meditation (condensed version) or the Breath, Sound, Body Meditation from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, which is available in podcast form.
You may think of journaling as some ongoing essay to yourself that requires deep reflection each day. At least that’s how I saw it. However, there are many other ways to go about journaling. The 5-minute Journal has been widely popular, and many variants on this exist, including a simple daily gratitude journaling practice. This takes less than 2 minutes in most cases.
I like to quickly name someone for which I am grateful for their relationship, whether it is an active one or an old one. Then I name something from yesterday I’m grateful for, something today, and something simple and near. I also record one new word in a foreign language that I am learning (currently Spanish), something new that I have learned since my last entry, and a quick rough tally of the last 24 hour’s spending. That’s 7 items total. There is space on the second line for an 8th item: ideas. This is where I will record any ‘brilliant’ inventions or ideas that may pop into my head throughout the day that I feel compelled to at least record.
Yoga or Stretching
Something to get you out of your mind and into your body may be helpful too. Inversions are said to be energy-producing, whereas if you are pushing your body a lot throughout the days, a calm, restorative session or even just some simple stretching might be just what you need. I try to get in just 5-10 minutes at the end of my routine to transition from mind to body a bit before setting off to whatever it is I may be up to.
Not eating 100 calories is far easier than burning 100 calories, so if you want to be healthy and fit, it is more important that you focus on your diet rather than exercise, although of course a combination of the two is best.
When I chose to get serious about eating better, I picked up a few new habits, starting with daily intermittent fasting, aided by “Bulletproof Coffee”, as it were. I eat all of my food between about noon and 7pm on most days, and get through the morning fast using the energy provided by the fats in the coffee. By starving your body of glycogen (carbs/sugar) and providing it with fats, your body will be more primed to produce ketones from your body’s fat stores as an energy source instead. If you teach your body to burn fat, it will then burn fat.
I also picked up some new staple meals, some of which I have already dropped from rotation since and replaced with others but it largely depends on the season, location, and mood. I have always been a man of ‘phases’, for better or worse. Some of the dishes I picked up that I would often make in batches where applicable in order to have on hand in times of blood-sugar crises, which also happen to be the times of least willpower and the worst decision making abilities. These include a (not necessarily) bacon-based dhal; a ‘skillet’ of bacon, eggs, avocado and other veggies (add tortilla when in Mexico); baked oatmeal and/or ‘overnight oats’ and, rice and beans and, of course, anything curried such as Brussel Sprouts or a vegetable medley. These are all economical, healthy, and delicious choices and I plan to bring you some of the recipes soon.
Ultimately, it’s a combination of what’s available locally at a reasonable price and minimal impact on the plant and its people, along with what works well for you you and your routine that will determine how you eat, so you have to work within these parameters. If you don’t eat too much (or too little), you’re going to get into better shape. But get used to also eating better foods and you will ultimately crave eating better, as well as be able to eat more as healthier foods are generally less energy-dense than their high-calorie counterparts. Like many things in life, including finances, simple food is often much more practical and sustainable; and therefore better.
There is no one special diet that will help everyone be exactly as fit as they wish to be. However, there are tools out there that you can try out and if you truly prioritize your health, finances and experiences in life it is likely that you will work out a diet that that suits you well and inevitably leads to a healthier and wealthier version of yourself.
If you work at your computer in any way, don’t keep your email open. In fact, don’t open it for first time until mid to late morning, when all of your morning routine has been completed and you’ve already got a few things under your belt. I would recommend checking it no more than 3 more times during your day after that, once after lunch, once near the end of the day, and maybe once in the evening if it is absolutely necessary to you and your business. If you are retired, checking your email no more than 4 times per day should be incredibly easy. Ideally we would be checking them as little as once per week, but just keeping it closed in between email sessions can have a hugely positive impact on productivity.
Turn off email notifications of all types on your phone, and make sure people you work with understand they should contact you by text or some other instant messenger app with matters that are truly ‘urgent’.
Get over the idea of maximizing comfort. You want to know how to make something that is currently uncomfortable feel comfortable? Do it. That’s what growth is. Find the edge of your comfort zone physically, mentally, emotionally, and test it. Confidence is simply an understanding of what you’re capable of based on what you’ve done in the past. Low confidence may often simply be a result of a low amount of reps practicing something.
Forget comfort, embrace failure, and get on with your day. You will be amazed at the opportunities that you start to notice and come across once you are looking for the least comfortable path instead of the most comfortable path like the rest of them.
Don’t watch it. You don’t need it. All it will bring you is added depression and anxiety to deal with. Seriously. It sounds extreme because it’s so habitual for us to check our websites of high rotation, including news and sports, but it’s such a distraction and adds nothing to your day that will help you to maintain a clear head. You will find out about what you need to find out about, not to worry.
If you have a TV, get rid of it already (or at least your cable connection). You’re never going to retire early with such habits. And even if you do, what are you planning to watch TV in your retirement? If so, just keep working.
Change your default home screen from new tabs or windows to your search engine or nothing. I recall often going online to tackle something productive and completely losing track as newsflashes and tabloid-esque clickbait would pop across the screen. Sometimes I wonder how much good, pure productivity has been thwarted by such things at this point – how many good ideas have been completely lost to the ether?
These are just a few of the things I’ve picked up along the way that help me to maintain a state of Zen as much as possible, but surely there is a lot more you can do. I am sure some of you are already Zen masters yourselves so, please, let me know in the comments section what you would like to see added here. How do you keep your Zen alive? Is it a daily choice and practice? Or just plain magic and voodoo?