“Making daisy chains takes my mind off”

We need to listen more to our kids, they are the true teachers.

I was making daisy chains with our daughter today – actually she taught me how to make daisy chains. Seeing her work quietly, I asked her what was going through her mind.

Her answer was worthy of a Zen master:

I don’t think anything when I make daisy chains. Making daisy chains takes my mind off.

Had I asked the same question to any adult, I would have gotten a long list of unrelated thoughts back. 🙂

There’s a lot to learn from out daughter.

  • Be in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing.
  • Don’t worry about other things while you’re doing what you like.
  • Find pleasure and passion in the things you’re doing right now.

Watch your kids closely, there’s a lot we can learn from them!

Small changes can have huge impact

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I am not obsessed with my weight. To me, weight is just one input to an overall healthy life and lifestyle. However, I noticed that I had gained almost 15 pounds over the last half-year without really knowing why. That disturbed and frustrated me to be honest.

I did make a plan to do more sports but couldn’t follow through to the extent that I wished due to work demands. Actually I didn’t increase my workout frequency at all. So I decided to accept the gain for now and tackle it in a few months when work demands have calmed down a little bit.

Surprisingly, over the last few weeks I noticed that my weight has dropped back down 10 pounds. I didn’t really focus on anything specific to get there. I didn’t even know what caused it. So I went on a little inventory of changes that I had made to my rhythms and habits lately:

  • I stopped drinking my one or two glasses of wine with dinner in the evening to have a better sleep
  • I stopped drinking a protein shake in the morning and a few lattes throughout the day, because milk left me with a ‘slimy’ feeling which I wanted to reduce
  • I wanted to leverage the quiet morning hours at work and thus skipped reading the news in the morning, instead going straight to the shower, which also meant I wouldn’t eat the 4 pieces of chocolate while checking for news

Those are really the only lifestyle changes I can think of, yet they made me get back towards my optimal weight without explicitly trying.

Small changes do have an outsized impact!

Don’t try to make big swoops of dramatic changes to your life. They are hard. Rather chip away on the small things and allow them to add up.

The Four Burners

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I read and interesting article about work life balance by James Clear (https://jamesclear.com/four-burners-theory – The Downside of Work Life Balance).

The theory

The theory is that you can compare juggling your life with four burners. One for Family, one for health, one for friends and one for career (you might notice that I sorted and prioritized them differently from James).

The statement then is that in order to be successful you have to cut down one burner so you can focus on the others. In order to be really successful you have to cut down two burners.

James talks about various strategies you can apply to get there. I see a core of truth and value in most of them, but I think they are also each similarly dangerous for a balanced life.

Life has seasons

The strategy that comes closest to something that makes sense to me is the ‘seasonal strategy’ – you focus on different things in different life stages. That does make sense, you want to set priorities as you go through life. When you start a new career, focus on learning, when you have kids, focus on raising them well.

Where is disagree is the assumption that you should focus completely during those times. What good is a high paying job and a great career if you don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits? How much is your wealth worth if your kids don’t talk to you anymore when you’re old and seeking company? How useful is that dream body if you don’t have friends?

Seek a balanced life but set focus points

My point here is that the key is a balanced life. Yes it is! Work life balance got a bad vibe in recent years with our gig economy and always-on mentality. You need to balance though! You need to invest in the long-term!

You can make the seasonal model work if you pick a few constraints:

  • Never compromise on family. Ever. Really.
  • Have a baseline for health. Don’t go below it. You might not need to train for Iron Man every year, but you do want to life to your retirement.
  • Double down on career growth when the return is right. Change your career when it isn’t. However doubling down needs to come with a timeline. You cannot double down for 30 years. Treat it like a marathon with deliberate sprints in between.
  • The friends that truly matter. They will understand if you have times when you’re busy and need to focus on other things. Just explain it to them. They will wait for you.

Never compromise on family, never go under a baseline for health, adjust the rest with a clear focused plan.

Yes, it’s four burners. But if you turn any of them down too much for too long of a time, your meal will go bad before you can serve it.

Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon with sprints in between.

Be a Woodsman in the Summer, be a Scholar in the Winter


I had a long-ish list of things I wanted to prepare for our Tai Chi classes over the summer break. I also wanted to work on the new edition of our book. And while I’m super passionate about Tai Chi and it’s a big driver of purpose in my life, it didn’t happen. I just didn’t feel the drive for it.

For a while I actually felt really bad about that, but then it dawned on me – this is another example, where you need to see the Yin and Yang. Life goes in waves, flows ands circles.

There is a season for everything. Embrace it!

Be out and soak in the sun in summer. Re-charge with the sunlight. Be outgoing. When the summer fades away and things seem to close back in, energize and vitalize from within. Learn, read, practice meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga, whatever fuels your inner energies.

Be a woodsman in the summer and a scholar in the winter.

Learning curves

Learning is never going to stop. You die if you stop learning.

I’m in a phase right now learning something new every day. Mostly about myself. Not always something to be proud of, but I am trying to work on it. I am listening to the book “You are a Badass” on Audible right now and it totally resonates with me.

A few outtakes right now are on my mind here:

Be in the present.

Don’t be anxious. Don’t fret what may come in the future, because it will always be different from what you are fretting about. And I think our mind conjures up the worst scenarios anyways. Most of the time it won’t be as bad as imagined.

Is it life threatening? Is it threatening someone else’s life? No? Then don’t worry!

Own your mistakes.

Try to at least learn from them. Maybe set up some contingencies, so it won’t happen again in the future or ask for help!

Don’t trust your own imagination and memories, because they can deceive you anyways. There are enough studies showing that memories change over time and over emotions.

Imagine yourself owning your own dreams and then go for it! Don’t wait, because we only have this one life and one body to work with.

Yes, you might not have this unrealistic body they want to sell you in magazines, but you have your body and hopefully your health to enjoy life.

And yes, there might be others who are better …. ( you fill in the blank) than you are, but there is only one you! No-one else is there who can do whatever you want to do the way YOU are.

Don’t worry about what others may think of you , because it’s your own life and as long as you don’t hurt – and I don’t think feelings – others with it. Go for it!

And if you commit to something, do it now. With your whole you in the mix and in the present! It might turn out to not be the one thing you wanted to do, but at least you did it.

As Yoda might say:

“Try not, Do!”

Enjoy the ride!

Aliens

I’m outing myself here as hard-core Science Fiction Fan and believer in the existence of Aliens. No, I’m not talking about little green men or Spock like creatures. We are turning into the latter one ourselves (see “A calm Brain” by Gayatri Devi: our frontal cortex will take over). No, I have never seen a UFO except in movies and have not been abducted.

Bumr-spockt I cannot fathom that we should be the only “intelligent” species in this vast universe, but chances that we’ll ever encounter others are slim. Be it that they exist either in such a great distance from us, or existed in the past or will exist in the future, but also maybe we don’t even realize their intelligence, because it is so vastly different from our event horizon.

Did you read Ender’s game? Watch the movie maybe? But did you know that there exists a whole other universe in books after that first one? Some things might be a bit farfetched, but it’s a good example of our inability to even imagine life other than ours. How should we, who are not even able to accept other cultures, religions, traditions than our own, accept the concept of a totally alien existence? Different values, thinking, basic genetic buildup, different atmosphere, everything different from what we know and see might make it just plain impossible to even realize there is another presence out there.

What are the chances that there was one race before us “seeding” the universe with genetic copies of themselves, so we might even encounter human like aliens. But if we do, how should we get over the fact that their evolution must have been so vastly different from ours, just thinking of all the microbioms around us. War of the worlds was an awful movie, but it might be right in the regard that those little microbes around us, might be just what kills any alien visiting us, or what would kill us visiting other planets.

And one of the best cartoons I know is Calvin and Hobbes anyways:

Calvin and Hobbes

 

To end with this: Let’s take care of our own world first before we try to conquer others.

Invest in Experiences, not Stuff

Every now and then we ask ourselves the big questions: “What is this life all about? What will we leave behind? What will be our legacy?”

There are many great answers to these questions. Most of them come down to making a difference. Changing the world (for the ambitious crowd) or changing how others perceive us by getting rich, pretty(er) or famous (for the more egocentric folks out there).

What I personally really want to leave behind are fond memories and strong bonds with the people in my life that I care about most, especially with my family.

Which is a long intro to get to the point I want to make in this post: focus your time and energy on creating rich experiences, fond memories and with that strong bonds.

Focus on experiences

Making time for and investing in experiences was one of the big resolutions and promises to each other that Uli and I made when we moved to the US.

Back in Germany we were always super busy during the week, exhausted on the weekend and as a result crashed on the couch in front of the TV most weekends instead of going out and experiencing the world.

We were also living in the same area where I grew up and subconsciously we probably thought we had already seen it all anyways.

So how do you do this ‘experience thing’?

Block time, make it a priority

First of all, as for everything, you need to decide to actually do it and commit to it. Block time, protect that time. Define a measurable goal or success criteria. For us it was to commit to going outside or doing at least one fun and engaging activity every single weekend.

You need to defend that time since you will of course have errands to do every weekend that will distract you from your goal. Do it! The renewed energy you will gain from your experiences will let you blast through your other responsibilities much more effectively once you’re back.

You will also often need to kick your own behind because all you really want to do is to actually crash on the coach. Get yourself going. Get over the hump. You will feel much better afterwards. And if not, you can still get your beer and chips and decide that I suggested a really stupid idea to you.

On a side note, Uli and I don’t watch TV at all anymore – it’s too much of a time and energy sucker. The only exception is the occasional movie night with the kids, which quite frankly is much more about the experience than the actual movie when you watch Frozen for the 20th time.

Keep your curiosity

The big stuff is awesome. We love going to National Parks and spending our vacations camping in nature.

Don’t waste your time waiting for your next vacation though. There is so much to explore right here, every day. Keep your eyes open and be curious like a child. If you have a hard time doing that, watch your children, they will teach you. Rediscover your inner child and its playful curiosity and wonder for the world.

Invest in experiences

Rather than buying lots of stuff, that will soon end up at your next garage sale, spend your resources on experiences.

Instead of buying that beautiful little thing, go to your state park website and book a campsite for next weekend. Instead of renting that movie, get gas for your car, grab your loved ones and drive into the mountains. And instead of buying your kids that new toy, get them a swim suit and go to the lake.

Our biggest investment this year will probably be a new camping trailer since our old one starts to fall apart. Rather than a new TV or car or whatever status symbol we could show off to friends and coworkers, this will bring us out with our kids for irreplaceable bonding time and fun. You don’t need a trailer though, a tent or picnic basket will do just fine. The point is, focus on getting stuff that make you create experiences.

Which brings me back to closing the loop with my intro.

Leave a legacy for your kids

What really made us double down on experiences are our kids. They are still young and sometimes even listen to mommy and daddy. Sometimes.

So we still have direct influence on their lives and views of the world. That won’t last much longer though. Friends will take over as influencers. They will become more and independent and soon take off into their own lives. They will have their own families and kids and will carry forward what they picked up from us.

So what can we leave?

Teachings and rules? Unlikely to stick.

Stuff? Maybe. They will be ‘thrilled’ to have to get rid of all of the old ‘junk’ that we will leave them.

Memories? For sure. And I think experiences and shared memories will shape their lives more than any smart advice we can give them. After all teaching by example is still the most effective method of teaching (it might well be the only one that actually works).

If you only remember one thing from this post

Invest your time, energy and resources in building experiences. Through that, create strong bonds and memories with your loved ones. And have a TON of fun along the way!