Goodbye 2016, Hello Future


Original artwork by Alicia K. Brooks 2016

I think I say this every year, but I absolutely cannot stand the end of the year. I guess I should clarify. What I can’t stand about the end of the year -every year- is the looking back. The nostalgia. The tendency for people to live in the past year and pat themselves on the back for being a part of it. Well, good on ya. But I’m bored now. I lived through all those pictures the first time. You can save it. Thanks.

Social media has made every day a year in review. There is Throw Back Thursday, and Flash-Back Friday. There are daily posts about what you looked like last year, or as a kid, or during the summer. Or last month. Instagram has lost its INSTA. It’s more of a “Live in the Past-agram”. I know YOU might be enamored of what you used to look like, but it’s rather annoying for the rest of us. It reeks of desperation to be looked at and liked. Living in the past just robs you of today.

December is the worst of it. Here come all of the pictures: Here is what I’ve  accomplished! What I’ve eaten! Who I’ve loved! Where we have traveled! Here is how long my hair is now! My kid has grown this much! While the temptation towards nostalgia is great, I’d rather look forward. Not back.

And this year it is even more important to look forward. 2016 was a shit show of the stickiest shit ever. Not just for me personally, but for the world. Brexit. Big Fat Baby Trump. Bill Cosby a confirmed rapist. Gun Violence. There is no need for me to recap all of the nastiness. We lived it. We know.

For me the end of the year is a time for regrouping and figuring out the next step. Where do I want to live? What do I want to get done? Who do I want to meet? What do I want to accomplish? After I figure out the questions, it’s time to sit down and get concrete answers. New Year’s resolutions usually don’t pan out because folks don’t consider the actual “doing” of said resolution. For instance, to state that you want to lose weight is fine, but you won’t get very far. Instead why not say you will work out for an hour, five days a week? Why not make concrete goals that are not easy to wiggle out of?

So… here’s to 2017! Let’s do it right! Let’s make it about standing up for those who cannot. Let’s make it about accomplishments and the road we take daily to make them happen. Let’s make 2017 the year we say, “Look at what I’ve DONE!“,  instead of “LOOK AT ME!

Zen Habits: Work/Life Balance

WorkLifeBalance3Yesterday at work I read a passage in a book I was returning to the shelves of the Business section. I tend to glance at the titles in this section or roll my eyes as I flip through the pages. For me, most of what is in Business books is just common sense. They try to market to specific types of people (Type A anyone?) by claiming to have the answer to all of your important questions. It is not unlike the Diet book business. Each new book claims to have the right answer for losing weight, but you’ll only have the answer if you read the book. I’ll save you some money – eat right, eat smaller and exercise. No book necessary. The same goes for business. If you need to read a chapter explaining how to return emails (to your boss, coworker, team…) then you are kind of dumb. But there are plenty of people who think I’m dumb, so I guess we’re even.

The book I glanced at was by a young (twenty-seven years old) entrepreneur who claimed to have the keys to success for todays ever-changing world. Or something like that. She knows what she’s talking about. You can tell from the smart yet chic suit she wears on the cover. She’s also standing outside on a corner like she’s going to hail a cab. I guess thats supposed to let us know she’s a Big City Business Woman and we can trust her. Anyway, I opened to a page about work/life balance. Or rather how the idea of such a thing is a figment of your imagination. Like the Easter bunny. Okay she didn’t make that analogy but she should have. She writes that her generation strives for work life integration. To not work an eight-hour day and then go home and forget about it. She says that work and life are the same. The. Same.

I threw up a little in my mouth. But I kept reading.

She contends that for women, the balance of a home life and a work life doesn’t exist. Something has to give. Women cannot balance a successful career and be a wife and or mother, girlfriend, whatever… without giving up something, or saying “No” to opportunities. Um… No shit! Who says “Yes!” to everything? I guess realizing that at age twenty-seven is alright, but did you need to devote a chapter in your book to it? The trick is saying yes to the right things for you and your priorities. If your priorities are career driven, then say yes to things that will help your career. If your priorities are family, travel or whatever else, then say yes to the things that help that vision. Taking short cuts isn’t the answer.

woman-entrepreneurThe lady entrepreneur continues to write about how she has integrated her work life with her life life by getting  a nanny, ordering groceries on-line and having them delivered, and hiring someone to walk her dog for her. I put the book down. That is not achieving balance. That isn’t even integrating. That’s just delegating. Nice try. But I ain’t buyin’ it.

Success and fulfillment are different for everyone. Many people gauge their success by how well they get paid, their title at work, or their position. Others by how their life looks from the outside. Do you have the right things? If you have the right things people will think you are successful. It seems to me that the author of that book thinks this way. Money, fame and power are what matters. What people think matters. You can claim to have it together, but when you are living your life by proxy, I don’t believe you. Bringing your work home with you is fine if you are single and live alone, but it’s just cruel if you live with other people. Or cats. Nobody wants to be around the person who is constantly checking their iphone, constantly talking about work, or is obviously not present when you try to have a non work related conversation.

Eckhart Tolle says, “Neither failure or success has the power to change your inner state of being.” The most successful people I know do not look at failure as failure and success as success. They do not let outcomes change their state of beingYou can see if goals are being accomplished or not, but that shouldn’t have any effect on your inner state. Telling women to delegate their lives away isn’t the answer. We should make time to walk the dog or pick the kids up from school. We should be capable and willing to buy food for ourselves in a store or market. When we disconnect from our lives to the extent that we buy our food from a touch screen and have it left on our doorstep we’ve gone too far. When the nanny picks up the kids from school, feeds them dinner and you simply kiss them good night, you’ve gone too far. Perhaps we need to look at our priorities a little.

For me, being happy at work and at home meant changing my perception of the world around me. There was no other answer. The truly successful, whether a CEO, a lawyer, a bookseller, or a stay at home mom, are the people who create a life full of joy and accomplishment. These people are not controlled by environment or opinion. Truly successful people are self-reliant, they know where they are going in life.  Even if outward appearances do not agree. They choose where to focus their energy and their thoughts. Tolle also says that pleasure is something you get from the outside and joy comes from within. I think success is finding joy. Who cares what you do for a living if you’ve discovered joy within yourself? I try to remember every day, that looking for happiness is the antithesis of happiness. It helps. And it makes me happy.

Zen Habits: Life In-Between

roads-divergingNo matter what stage of life you are in, there are questions. You might be wondering, “What’s next?” or “What do I do now?” or even, “Is this it?” Maybe you just finished a big home project, or maybe, like me, you are in-between everything. I am so often in transition that it has become almost comfortable. Almost. I’ve been on the road since December 29, 2013 – that’s well over a month. I have a plan in place, but it’s a slow-moving, low-income, loose plan. It’s tough to be in-between a home and a job at the same time. Figuring out how to live in the “In-between” is difficult when you have money. It’s almost impossible when you don’t.

I’m in a unique position. I’m kind of stalled. My plan got derailed (as plans often do) and now I am left twisting in the wind. My fella and I had planned on heading to Seattle in June when we were finished at Buddhist Camp. I hadn’t planned on leaving early, but I did leave early. That means a new plan. I have feelers out in Seattle and folks willing to give us a place to flop, but jumping into the unknown with no money isn’t easy. It’s not impossible, just not easy. I have to look at this as an opportunity for us to be fighters; to look within ourselves and find that strength that we always knew was there. But after months of digging deep, who knows how much is left.

Transitions give us strength and builds real character. We discover who we are and what we want from life. We let go of our preconceptions and see clearly, maybe for the first time.

Each time I have found myself in a time of transition I try to seize the opportunities that life throws at me. I’m trying to enjoy the surprises that each day brings and accept all that life throws my way. Life is just one big experiment and there are no correct answers. There is only what you do, and what you choose not to do. All I can do is be fully present in the life I have chosen and take advantage of each stage, even the in-between ones. I have patience and I won’t let doubt get the better of me. I’m on a journey and I plan on enjoying every moment of it.

Hopefully one day in the not to distant future, my sweetheart and I will be able to look back on this In-Between time fondly and say, “Hell yeah! We nailed it!” I don’t know what’s next, but I do know I’m ready, willing, and able to kick its ass.

Zen Habits: Adulthood

url“I am convinced that most people do not grow up…We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.” – Maya Angelou

I have been told my entire life to grow-up and be an adult. I did all the things I thought grown-ups did. I got a boring jobs working for boring corporations. I got married. I had dinner parties. I settled down. But I guess I did it wrong because people kept telling me to “grow up”. It was confusing to me because I thought I was grown up. Looking back I see that I was doing just fine. I was just stuck trying to live someone else’s idea of a “grown up” life.

For me, being an adult has been a gradual process. And I have fought it kicking and screaming the entire way. Okay, not really, but I never bought into the picture of what adulthood looked like. I never really wanted to be a home owner or have the same job for twenty years, or have kids. No one ever told me that there are many different pictures of what adulthood looks like. Not all grown-ups are married. Not all grown-ups have kids. Not all adults go to college, or work a 9-5 job, or own a home, or stay in one place their whole lives.

One of the first signs of adulthood I noticed in myself was realizing that no job or person was beneath me. It came early for me. I’ve had to work since I was about twelve years old, and I’ve had some super unglamorous jobs: Domino’s Pizza phone girl, waitress, cocktail waitress, tour guide, teacher and karaoke host in Prague. These are just a few of the not so glamorous jobs I’ve had. I realized fairly young that working a not so sexy job isn’t the worst thing in the world. Being broke and calling mom and dad for money is. I know how to manage my finances, however small they are.

Real adults are able to let go of bitterness and resentment. We don’t hold on to the past, or wear our bitterness like a badge honor. We don’t hold grudges. Adults are able to take life as it comes without tossing blame onto others. We make mistakes and we cop to them. We don’t expect others to always listen to us, and we know when to keep our mouths shut. Sometimes, your advice isn’t wanted. And that’s okay. Adults know how to respond to life rather than react to it. Adults can say ‘NO’ to their boss, or partner, or friends without fear of repercussion or guilt. Adults know that time and energy are not mutually exclusive.

Being a grown up isn’t about what kind of job you have, or who you know. It’s about facing reality head on. I bet you know a few people who live in a hypothetical world. They imagine that people are always judging them, and always thinking the worst of them. That thought turns into an assumption, and that assumption becomes your ‘truth’. It’s nuts to live that way. What a waste of time!

An adult doesn’t care what people think about her, and she certainly doesn’t sit around thinking about the people who think she’s a loser. And trust me, there are people out there that think you are a loser. I promise, there are people who don’t like you. And that’s okay! Heck, just this morning I got a lovely comment on my blog that said “Fuck You” about eight different times and called me an asshole. Did I cry and wonder why this person is so mean? Nope. I even posted the comment. (It’s on the ABOUT ME PAGE comment section. Look for Shaggy6913)  Then I laughed that folks in Austin are still pissy over something I wrote over a year ago, and simultaneously proving my point about how warm and welcoming they are. Grow up.

Personally, I think the best way to cultivate maturity is to invest in relationships with different types of people. Surrounding yourself with people your same age, same political views, likes and dislikes will only stint your growth. We all need peers, and people who will help us down the road, and knowing people both younger and older than you can be your ticket to understanding yourself. When you invest in people younger than yourself, it’ll help them grow and help you mature. I have friends who are nineteen, and I have friends who are fifty. Age doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the kind of person you are.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want the world to treat you like an adult, start acting like one. I’m not saying “Get a real job!” or “Stop going out and partying!” I’m saying, treat others with respect and compassion. Don’t think your opinion is the right one, or the only one. Be open-minded and practice by meeting new and different people. Be in charge of your finances and take care of yourself and the people who care about you. Enjoy life, travel often and If people still tell you to grow up, just smile and say thanks. That’s what I do.

I like my life.

Minimalist Living: Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-poster1Thanksgiving could be a time to strip away all of the superfluous stuff in our lives, and get to what is really necessary. It could be an opportunity to spend meaningful time with the people who mean the most to you. Eat together, talk, and laugh together. Spending three hours in the kitchen, or in front of the television watching football isn’t “meaningful time”.

These days Thanksgiving is about cooking huge meals, over-eating, and getting “good deals” on Black Friday. This is the opposite of showing “Thanks” for what you have. One doesn’t show gratitude for what they have by purchasing more things. It’s backward. I like a good Turkey as much as the next gal, but I am not about to go out and buy a 22 pound bird and all of the trimmings just because it’s a holiday. I can celebrate with less and feel better about myself in the process.

I’m not trying to get anyone to shun Thanksgiving. I’m hoping to get folks to think about the way they celebrate. Does your Thanksgiving revolve around spending money? Are you planning a new outfit? Are you buying new serving platters, food, or decorations? Are you preparing twice or three times the amount of food you really need? In order to celebrate Thanksgiving in a thoughtful way, we need to begin with ourselves.

Try starting some new traditions that support your lifestyle. Try hosting a Thanksgiving potluck. We did this in Prague a lot. People brought something to eat, and a plate and silverware! We didn’t have enough plates, bowls, spoons etc, so instead of spending money on new stuff, we asked people to bring their own. It was great fun, and there were hardly any dishes at the end of the night.

Another good idea is to eat out. Choose a nice restaurant (Sorry, Chili’s doesn’t count) that has a prix-fixe meal. Each person is responsible for their own meal, and split the cost of the booze. Doing this make the meal much more relaxing, and often times can end up costing less than hosting it at your home. The best part is there is no mess, no dishes, and no folks sticking around long past their welcome.

Zen Habits: How to Stick to Your Path When Nobody Gets It

photo: Alicia Brooks

photo: Alicia Brooks

If you had asked me at twenty-seven years old what my life plan is, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t have a plan. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew what society, my friends and family expected of me, and I tried doing it. I got married. I got a job in an office. I made money. I was miserable, but I was doing what I was supposed to do. If you had told me that instead I’d divorce my husband and move to the Czech Republic, and spend the next seven years traveling the world and wind up at a Buddhist Center in Northern California, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

But somewhere in the midst of living the life I thought I was supposed to live, I realized I wasn’t happy. Or rather I was forced to realize I wasn’t happy. Looking back I feel like I was too dumb or too scared to see I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted. I was living the life other people wanted to me to live. But, my relationships were failing, my career was less than fulfilling, I was miserable.

I was checking off all of the boxes (Job? Check! Married? Check!) but it didn’t make me happy. I realized what I wanted from life wasn’t what most people wanted. I wanted a life of adventure, freedom, love, and learning. Staying in one place for twenty years, working in an office every day was not what I wanted from life.

Of course, living a life of freedom and adventure, love and learning isn’t enough. I still needed and wanted an amazing partner, enough money for what I need, and to live in a place that fuels my creativity. And why the hell not? Why settle down in a life that doesn’t fit?

But explaining your life goals and dreams to family and friends isn’t always easy. Most people don’t understand. When you live your life in an unusual way – traveling, living abroad, volunteering, not having babies, starting your own business – it makes people uncomfortable. It’s just too risky for stable minded people. They don’t understand it. They fear it, and you. They might even be envious of you. And that’s okay. Just take it in stride.

The trick is to not let all of that fear and doubt rub off on you. The last thing you need is to start doubting yourself. So how do you keep living your life the way YOU want? Here are some tips to help you figure that out.

  1. Give people the tools to educate themselves. We spend a lot of our time explaining ourselves to people. We try to explain why we are moving to Europe, or why we have decided to change careers. We struggle to make people understand our POV, and explain (over and over) what we are after. Well, stop. It won’t work. You can talk ’til you’re blue in the face, but it won’t change anyones mind. The best idea is to give friends and family the tools to educate themselves. I have sent my friends and family as much information about Ratna Ling as I possibly can. That’s all I can do. It’s up to them to read it, and ask me questions. I can’t force them to accept my choices, but I can make it their responsibility to educate themselves about it. I can’t have a meaningful dialogue about my life choices with someone who can’t take the time to educate themselves about it.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people. It’s a lot easier to live your dream when you have a group of people around you who “get it”. Start limiting your time with people who don’t understand what you are doing.
  3. Commit to your lifestyle in thought and action. Start a routine that includes yoga and meditation. Make time for the things which are important to you. Whether it’s writing, painting, exercising, singing… make it a part of your daily practice. Making creativity and inner connection a part of your daily ritual will help you in making it a part of your life.
  4. Allow yourself the freedom to change, even if nobody else will. I’m not the same person I was at sixteen. I’m not even the same person I was at twenty-six. Thank goodness! I should hope that we all grow and change over time. I don’t have the same priorities I did in my twenties, and that’s okay with me. I’m GLAD that getting wasted and dancing the night away isn’t my main goal in life. It was fun while it lasted, but that ain’t me anymore. But, people are comfortable with the YOU they first met. It fits into their idea of who you are, and that fits into their life. When your life shifts and your priorities change, it forces other people to change their idea of you. That makes some people uncomfortable. Don’t let that stop you from growing and changing. If your friends and family are having trouble adjusting to your new lifestyle, job, or home – that’s a THEM problem. Not a YOU problem. You just go on being awesome.
  5. Stay strong. You know deep down inside that you are a badass. You know that you are doing what’s right for you. Seeking the approval of others is an uphill battle that you’ll eventually lose. Do the best you can, every day. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t. The only persons happiness that you are responsible for is your own.

Minimalist Living: Moving

iStock_000015548544XSmallNobody looks forward to moving. Sure, you might be excited about being someplace new, but nobody likes the actual moving part. Packing sucks, cleaning sucks, driving a UHaul sucks… it just isn’t fun. I’ve moved more times than I can count. I’ve moved internationally, cross country and locally. I’m good at it. Moving doesn’t have to be difficult, but it will be stressful no matter how much you plan. Picking up your life and carrying it to someplace new (sometimes sight unseen) can be really, really hard. Here’s how to make it a little easier.

  1. Memories don’t live in items. Say goodbye to dishes, books, that high chair your kid is too big for – all of it. While those items may spark precious memories, you don’t need them. The memories won’t disappear, I promise. Take time to walk through your place and remember all the good times you had. Remind yourself that you will be having more good times – in a new place. Keep looking forward, and don’t get bogged down in sentimentality.
  2. Consider where you are going. Right now, I’m moving from Texas to Northern California. I’ll be living in a cabin in the mountains for six months so I gave away most of my summer clothes, and all of my furniture. I won’t need any of it. If you are moving to a different climate consider getting rid of clothing that you’ll never wear.
  3. Sell, donate, give away! This should be your mantra when you are moving. Get rid of as much as you can prior to packing. If you have things in your home that are not being used – get rid of them. Give that treadmill to someone who likes running. Take clothes you don’t wear to Goodwill. Donate toys and books to local schools, day care centers, libraries, or churches. Remember the words of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
  4. Pack a “First Night” box – Have toilet paper, toothbrushes, pajamas, cell phones, chargers, dish soap, cleaning supplies, and sponges. Travel with this box in the car so it will be first in your new place. This eliminates looking for the things you’ll need right away.
  5. When packing seasonal clothing make sure it will last another season. If not, have a donation bag ready. You don’t want to hold-on to a winter coat that won’t last another winter. You’ll be much happier (and warmer) in a new coat which you can buy once you get there.
  6. Plan ahead. Minimalist or not, planning ahead can make a huge difference to your move. If you need car, van or truck – reserve now. Ask friends for assistance if they have a vehicle you could use. Start going through drawers, cupboards and closets – a few months in advance. Don’t let the moving date sneak up on you. If you pack and clean a little each day leading up to your move, you will have far less to do come moving day. And less stress, too!
  7. Downsize. It’s amazing how little space you actually need. We just went from a one bedroom flat to three suitcases, and some boxes. When we decide on where to land next we won’t have a ton of stuff to bring, and we won’t have to pay a huge rent. Use the little money you got from selling all of those old clothes, books and furniture and invest in something that will fit in your new space. Finding a home to accommodate your furniture is absurd.

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean living without, it means living with less. It means living with what you truly need. Moving house provides you with a perfect opportunity to start fresh. You’ll be happier in a smaller space – less maintenance, less expensive, less time cleaning, smaller environmental footprint, less temptation to accumulate more stuff. That means you have more free time, more money, more chances to get out of your home and DO something with your friends and family.

Because life is about experiences and people, not matching furniture and massive televisions. Remember, everything you own demands some of your time, energy and money. Less is definitely more. Especially when it comes to moving.

Zen Habits: 10 Ways to be a Better Person

betterforblogMy guess is that we all think we are pretty good people. We say “Please” and “Thank you”. We open the door for old ladies or folks with their hands full. These are good things to do, but let’s face it – you could do more.

Being a “good person” is a state of being, not a culmination of the things you do for others. It starts with your attitude towards yourself and trickles down to each person you encounter throughout your day. When you get mad at the waitress who forgot to place your order, you are changing the rest of her day, and yours as well.

  1. Relax. This is temporary. – Whatever situation you are in just remember – it is temporary. Whether you are stuck in traffic or going through a divorce – it is temporary. Remembering to take a deep breath and tell myself “This isn’t forever” is the only way I got through this last year in Austin.
  2. Don’t take your anger out on others. It’s ok to get angry, but you must learn to control it. Don’t let anger be a part of your decision making process. Calm your mind and body before making any decisions, phone calls, emails, or anything else that could make your situation worse. Work out. Talk a walk. Meditate… but don’t yell at people. It isn’t nice.
  3. Do the right thing. You have a choice to do the right thing or not. That means you can decide to be a good person all day long. There are little things you can do throughout your day that are helpful and kind. Return your shopping cart. Make more coffee if you take the last cup. Pick up trash if you see it. Leave a tip.
  4. Be honest. Sometimes it seems easier to tell a little white lie than to tell the truth. I’m guilty of that myself. But in the long run being honest is far easier and more helpful to others. If you ask for my opinion about something, you will not get a watered down version of the truth. You will get my honest opinion. I’ll tell you if you look fat in those pants. I’ll tell you what I think about politics, parenting, travel… anything. Being honest cuts the bullshit and let’s you get on with your day. Just try to be kind and honest at the same time.
  5. Listen. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was just waiting for their tun to talk? It sucks, right? Give whoever is speaking the courtesy of being a good listener. Taking the time to listen to other people might give you a new perspective, or teach you something you didn’t know about yourself. It also shows that you care about other folks and what they have to say.
  6. healthierforblogBe kind to yourself. Make sure your inner dialogue is kind. Stop beating yourself up. Don’t call yourself fat, stupid, ugly or anything else unkind. When you tell yourself that you are fat or ugly – that becomes your truth whether or not it is actually true. Think of positive things about yourself and focus on those. The flaws will still be there but you will be better able to deal with them if you are coming at them from a place of kindness.
  7. Don’t be rude. In this day and age rudeness has become quite acceptable. People feel they have a right to say rude things to others via the internet and in person. Saying that you’ve had a hard day and you are going to “slap a bitch” isn’t just rude – it’s ugly. It might be “funny” but it is also pretty low class. Use other peoples rudeness as a reminder to yourself not to do it. If someone cuts you off on the freeway, take a deep breath and make sure to let the next person in. Being nice will serve you better in the long run.
  8. Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Don’t let a conversation, or a work project move forward without you because you were too embarrassed to ask questions. Smart people ask questions and are eager to learn. It also shows you are listening, interested and committed.
  9. Stop with the excuses already! If you have read my blog for any length of time you know how I feel about excuses. They are lame. If there is something you want to do, then just do it. I absolutely despise where I live, so I am moving. When I was overweight I changed my diet and started exercising. Only you have the power to change your situation. Making excuses for your weight, finances, your kids behavior won’t help change any of it. Change starts with you.
  10. Be flexible. Being flexible and open to change is one of the most important things you can do. Being adaptable to new people and environments shows your willingness to learn and engage with others. People who always have to be in control, or have a rigid schedule for themselves (and sometimes their family!) are usually living out of fear. Rigidity is a sign of weakness and fear. Being flexible and adaptable opens you up to more experiences, happiness, and love. Bend with the wind rather than break. You’ll be less stressed and more happy. Is having things done your way worth the stress? Probably not.

Zen Habits: Creating Routine

Henry-Millers-11-commandmentsIf you look at any great artist, writer, thinker, dancer, or even athlete – you will see that they have one thing in common: A routine. Most (if not all) highly creative people have a routine, or “a process” in which they traverse in order to create. Just look in the “self help” section of your local bookstore and you will see shelves dedicated to the idea of creating habits – “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” – just to name a few.

Humans love the idea of a short cut. We love thinking that if we take a pill we won’t have to watch what we eat, or exercise. If we eat this kind of food but not the other, we will be thin. We think that if we adapt the same habits as ‘great minds’ we might ourselves become great. The trick is to find a routine that works for you.

Mark Twain would wake up and eat a huge breakfast, after-which he would retire to his study until five o’clock in the evening. He would work uninterrupted for hours on end, and after dinner he would share his work with his family. While that might have worked for Mr. Clemens, it would be hell for me. I like to work alone, but I don’t know about locking myself in one room until supper. It would drive me crazy! And reading my work out-loud to family? No freaking way. Find a routine that works for YOU, not a famous person you admire. Having role models is great, but admiring someone doesn’t get you any closer to “being” that person. Know who YOU are and what YOU need.

Oh, and speaking of things you need… let me quickly rundown some things you DON’T need. Sometimes habits need to be broken. Here are 3 habits to BREAK:

  1. SMOKING – really? Stop it. You know it’s bad for you. You know it makes you look like shit. It costs a LOT of money over the year. Really, just stop it.
  2. DRINKING – As someone who used to drink “like a man”, I know how fun it is. But, I am a lot happier now that I am sober. I’m alert. I’m hangover free. I’m healthy, thinner, happier… Yeah, I have a glass of wine here or there, but I couldn’t place in a drinking competition any longer. And I’m damn proud of it.
  3. COMPLAINING – Ugh. The worst. Guess what? Everybody has something to complain about. Everybody is as wrapped up in their lives as you are in yours. What makes you think folks want to hear how annoyed you are at the asshole who cut you off, or the clerk who had the audacity to take a phone call in front of YOU? Trust me – if you stop complaining the world will be nicer to you.

imagesMy personal habits are pretty basic. I try to keep a flexible attitude, and a flexible day so that I can take advantage of what the day may bring. Here is what I try to keep in mind, what I try to accomplish each day. Some days I do better than others.

  1. Clean something – I don’t have a regimented cleaning schedule. I do work as needed and since I don’t have a lot of “stuff” I don’t need to work as much. Again, the more shit you own, the more time you have to spend on it. In order to keep a loose schedule AND a clean flat I have a “One a day” rule. I need to do (at least) one chore a day. Whether it’s doing the dishes, the laundry, the tub… whatever. I do one chore a day.
  2. Read & Write – I read every day. I write every day. No exceptions. I think it was Stephen King who said, if you want to be a great writer you need to read every day. So I do. I write too. Practice your art. Daily.
  3. Play! – I do something fun every day. It might be crossword puzzles, and it might be going to Disneyland. It doesn’t matter as long as it was fun. The standard of “fun” is in my head, so I know if it counts. Even if I had fun at work, I try to do something fun for myself. It’s important to keep happy.
  4. Take stock – Sometime before I hit the hay, I take stock of myself. How am I feeling? Did I have a good day, or a bad day? Why? Doing this let’s me reflect on my day in a positive way, and also helps me leave it behind before I go to bed. When I wake up in the morning, yesterday doesn’t matter – it’s in the past. All that matters is today and making today a great day.
  5. Embrace mistakes – Everybody makes mistakes. Half of my day as a teacher is convincing kids that there isn’t anything wrong with making mistakes. Some of my best work has come from what I thought were mistakes. It’s funny, I notice “mistakes” in my paintings right away but nobody else seems to. Mistakes are something we learn from and move on. You might know some stubborn folks who keep making the same mistakes over and over and over, yet never seem to learn from their own missteps. Don’t be that guy. Own your mistakes and grow from them. A mistake doesn’t have to ruin your whole day. Deal with it and let it go. Remember, each time you tell “your story” your ego is getting just what it wants – attention.

The best advice I have is: Do what is right for you. You know what makes you happy, and what you need to succeed. You can design a set of “Commandments” for yourself that will allow you to flourish and be happy while keeping you on the right track. YOUR TRACK. It doesn’t matter what your best friend does, or what the celebrity on the cover of “People” does. All that really matters is what YOU do. And what you don’t do.

Zen Habits: Letting Go of Negativity

87511717We’ve all had a friend, at one time or another who, try as they might, only see’s the negative. People take “their” parking spots, or cut them off. At parties he probably hates the food, or thinks the music is lame. Their Facebook posts are always about someone who done them wrong. You might have had the distinct displeasure of traveling with one of these people. Nothing is to their liking, they complain the whole time, and they just want to go home. These people are a real bummer. They might be awesome people most of the time, but once that negativity comes out it’s a downward spiral.

We all fall prey to the temptations of lingering on the negative. I know I have. It’s easy to wallow in self-pity, or make even the smallest thing into a huge drama. It gives us attention and sympathy. You know what they say, misery loves company. But, hanging out with the woman who is so insecure she constantly makes fun of other women gets old. You begin to feel uptight when you see her, or you downright dread it. It is exhausting being around a negative person because it makes YOU into a negative person.

Negativity breeds negativity. We all know that. I was in the break-room at work the other day and it only took one person to complain about the coffee before it turned into a six person symposium on everything wrong with our jobs. Even playful, silly negativity can be harmful to your psyche. I was in a good mood going into work, but I ended up having a rough day. Did that small conversation in the break room shift my inner gear shift into “Negative”? Maybe. Probably.

It starts with being present in thought and word. In order to push negative ideas out and replace them with positive thoughts takes being present in the now. Think about how often during the day you worry about something that cannot be attended to until “later”, or how often you dwell on something that happened yesterday, or last week, or last year. You cannot change the past and dwelling on it won’t help, so why waste your energy? It is just weighing you down. And the future is one big question mark no matter how well you plan. Constantly worrying about “later” will rob you of the joys of right now. Most problems exist only in your own mind, in imaginary situations you make up that you continuously think about. It has nothing to do with “right now” or what is actually happening in your life at that moment.

twomonks_02Eckhart Tolle says, Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” He also says that negativity is totally unnatural. Nature (flowers, trees, animals) don’t have “self-esteem” issues and they are not stressed or depressed. Why? Because they live in the present moment.

Here are a couple of tips I use for staying positive, and letting go of that inner bitch who lives inside me.

  1. Realize that everything “bad” might not be – We all struggle with change and loss, some of more than others. It took me a very long time to realize that sometimes change or loss can feel bad and look bad, but it is actually making space in my life for something new, something positive. I view change like pruning a rose-bush: you have to cut off the flower for more to grow.
  2. Concentrate on the good – I know it might seem silly, but throughout my day I take moments to myself and think about the good things that have happened so far. I try to do this on days when I begin to feel hostile or angry over seemingly small things. I think of things that made me smile or things I laughed at. When doing this I realize that I am holding on to a resentment or an unresolved issue, and that I need to stop and refocus on “now”. It helps, and it works. My mood improves every time.
  3. Remember that negativity comes out of the ego – Tolle says, “…if there is any negativity involved, anger, resentment, irritation, then Ego is present there.” When you make a decision that is reactionary, it was probably made out of anger. The ego likes to be angry. It likes to prove how “right” it is. Your anger or resentment only reenforce the negative thoughts you are having. It feeds on itself. Once you recognize your own negativity for what it really is (ego), you can begin to change the way you react to anger. Instead of letting it control you, you can feel the emotion, observe it, and let it go.
  4. Don’t accumulate negativity – Whether it is a bad day, or a bad break-up, let it go. The longer you hold on to a negative thought, the more power you give it. Don’t tell your best friend, the grocery store clerk, and anyone else who will listen about “your story”. The more you tell “your story” the longer that emotion will linger. That anger will feel fresh and justified every time you talk about it. Your body believes it is happening again because your mind is sending it those signals. Your body doesn’t know the difference – it just tenses up. Instead of focusing on how right you are, or how slighted you feel, do something active. It will force you to focus on the present task (not falling over in yoga? Finishing that last mile?) and allow you to let go of the negativity.

I’ll leave you with this Buddhist story. I think of this story every time I start to dwell on something negative. It helps me to remember to stay in the present, and let go of my anger.

“Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. 
Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. 
One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.  
As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Four hours later, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.”Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”  
“Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side four hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”