Time must be your primary unit

Most, if not all of us, measure success, and what we strive for in the unit of money. Even if we tell ourselves we don’t think it’s the most important thing, we subconsciously do, as we think about what money allows us to do.

The primary unit of measurement defines how you think about your priorities.

While we all believe to think about money as a proxy, and means for experiences, it becomes our master when we treat it as the primary unit. There can never be enough of it – it’s the thing that supposedly enables everything.

As I was just reminded by reading ‘Digital minimalism’ by Cal Newport yesterday, we need to think about time as our primary unit. Time is the thing that doesn’t scale. Time is limited. Time is what we cannot get back. Time is when experiences happen and where they live.

Following ideas that are as old as society, we should start from time. Figure out how much money we need to optimize our time, and limit our money-creating to that. The more material stuff we have, the more money we need to keep it up. When we focus on getting a lot of money to support amazing experiences, we might end up not having enough time left to actually live those experiences.

Here is what Thoreau tells us:

“If I should sell my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for…. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.” – Thoreau in ‘Walden’

And as always, the Chinese knew it a long time ago already:

“Those who know they have enough are rich.” – Lao Tzu

Get your primary unit straight and optimize for it!

Mental Minimalism – Free up Your Mind

There is much talk about Minimalism these days. Tidying up your closets, room, houses,… That is all good and I fully subscribe to it. There is another, even more important area though that is much less talked about: Mental Minimalism.

Mental Minimalism – declutter your thoughts.

Our minds are always busy with seemingly important decisions or worrying about things in the past that we cannot change anymore or possibilities in the future that haven’t happened yet – and might never happen at all. We keep ourselves worrying and spending time and energy over decisions that don’t matter, don’t matter yet, or have already been made and are past.

Fretting about the past and future is a topic in itself. It is said that meditation helps to identify those thoughts and then gently letting them go, once spotted.

Simplify decision making

I want to focus more on decision making and which of those are useful. The short story is, if something is repetitive (what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, whether to go to the gym, when to leave for work,…) you should decide once and then just do it the same time every time.

Reduce decisions wherever you can. Create free space for your mind to focus on the important and unique things you really need to decide.

I reduce decisions wherever I can. I wear the same shirt and jeans (ok, not really the same one, the same style), take the same parking level and spot (even if I have to walk further), and follow the same routine and timing every morning. The idea of a work ‘uniform’ was famously introduced and evangelized by Steve Jobs.

Your personal Go bag

To further that thought, assemble you ‘Go bag’ and stick to it.

Get your base set of things you need, always have them, don’t change them. Refill immediately when you have used up a supply. You might carry a little more than what you need on a given day, but you save yourself the mental energy to decide what’s necessary and what’s not (and the frustration if your decision was wrong).

Don’t make it all the things you could possibly need. Identify the few things you truely need to cover the situations you most likely run into. And then stick to that.

A Go bag works for your day job, for your weekend pack, or even the set of things you need for a multi-week camping vacation in your trailer – which is where we are right now.

Know what you need. Refine that list, remove things if you didn’t actually use them for a while.

With my work Go bag, I can go on a moment’s notice anywhere and have everthing I need to be productive. To simplify further for my daily routing, I pack all the clothes I need for the coming week within 5mins on Sunday evening. And I if need I can go on a weeklong business trip without changing anything.

Building repeatable routines is cheap, making decisions is exepensive on your brain, mental power and ultimately your time. Be frugal with your brain power!

Digital Detox

We are out on our summer trip, road-tripping with our trailer and camping out in National Parks throughout the West, and life is good. Really good!

I was reflecting a little bit on what is different, what makes this feel so much different from the daily routines we are in.

There are several things. Obviously we don’t have to work or tend to our Honey-Do lists. We are a little further away from our worries, which helps us let go of them a little more often. We are forced back to a simpler lifestyle – camping and making do with fewer things – which usually makes us happier than juggling our possessions and toys.

There are many reasons and I could go on with my (longer) list. However, I think a big one is also to disconnect. We made it a point to disconnect digitally. To focus on the here and now, and not the far away, somewhere in our ‘social’ networks, or even worse in politics (official and personal).

Being in a National Park of course helps with that. There is only one spot that has the resemblance of connectivity and you actually have to drive there, limiting it to a quick sync once a day (if you’re lucky).

There are no annoying emails, no Facebook posts that you need to keep up with, no LinkedIn, no politicking in the neighborhood, no politics, no campaigning, no news, no disasters that quite frankly are usually too far away for us to care anyway.

Instead we enjoy nature. We play with the kids, we explore. We lay low in the afternoons after exciting and busy mornings and just enjoy life. We have camp chores, but they are just a part of the natural rhythm and don’t feel forced upon or draining.

It is bliss and peace. It is being in the real world, rather than the digital. It is being in the here and now.

I made a resolution for myself, to put in a digital detox day once a week when we’re back home to preserve and recreate this feeling in ‘normal’ life. I will also try to squeeze in at least half a day of ‘do nothing’ once a week. Bring your vacation insights back into ‘normal’ life and make them return further dividends!

Minimalism – Simplify your life

I guess this is one of the basic principles in my life so far. Be it my choices in sports: Karate, Tai Chi, other Martial Arts or in arts: Ikebana, Sumi Painting, Photography or woodworking.

Yes, Minimalism or Simplifying your life is a modern trend, but looking back it has been part of my life all the time.

Sports and Minimalism

Following a totally random choice of starting Karate (Shotokan) at the University Sports Club at Ludwig- Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich, Germany, while pursuing some extracurricular education in Sports Medicine, I not only found my passion for Martial Arts, but for the simpler things in life. The less embellishments, the more straight forward your move is, the more powerful it will be. No extras added. If you take a closer look at the Karate you see in competitions or movies, you might think those fancy jumps or moves look cool. But in the end, the guy who studies his opponent, finds the opening and delivers the final blow, is the one who will be successful. No fancy, good-looking cinematic stuff required.

Trying to remember the name of one movie, I think it was “The Seven Samurai” (Akirao Kurosawa), where there is one Samurai being attacked by a group of Ninja’s. He is calmly waiting inside a house and suddenly starts moving. Every single stroke of his sword hit’s the intended target.

I remember one of the first books I read in connection to Martial Arts was Jon Hyam’s “Zen in the Martial Arts” (“Der Weg der leeren Hand” in German). I have re-read it several times since then. Empty your bowl, if you want to learn new things. His stories still inspire me and help me reflect.

The same fits for Tai Chi. Flowing movements, but also straight forward and no extras. Focus on breathing and meditation more than the movements themselves. Meditation in motion does not really need fancy forms, but being present in that moment and not thinking of other things. Those thoughts are not important right at this moment. Put them on a shelf and unpack them if needed afterwards when you are ready to focus on a new task.

I did Yoga for a couple of years and it feels as if it is the same. Moving from one pose to the next offers you the time to focus and reflect. Be it reflection on your current physical condition or the things which concern you right now. And whichever Yoga teaching you are following, it often is the reduction of movements which brings your life back into focus. I was lucky enough to find an amazing teacher right here in our backyards and am truly sorry that I am not continuing with this right now. Maybe I will get back to it when the time is right.

Any of the martial arts I tried so far have that major commonality (Gemeinsamkeit (D)), be it Aikido, SMR (Shinto Muso Ryu) or Kobudo. No embellishments, focus on the one practise, focus on the moment.

Art and Minimalism

Ikebana (Japanese Flower arrangement) teaches you the art to embrace spaces. To not only see the flowers, but emphasize their beauty by reducing it to the basic components. Sometimes the empty spaces are the most important ones. The hardest part at the beginning of my  learning voyage was to be brave enough to cut off petals or leafs or even branches. Sometimes you feel so sorry and afraid to do it, just to realize that after you did it, it enhanced the beauty of your arrangement. It still is sometimes hard.

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If you know Sumi-e or Sumi Painting, you also realize the focus on the simplification. Ink is your medium and even if you add some color here or there, it still is the reduction of strokes, which shows the essence of the painting.

If you look at the best pictures of well-known photographers, they most often focus on one thing. I am thinking of those pictures on National Geographic, where you see the one polar bear trotting over ice, the one wave crashing on top of you or the one little bright-colored frog in the rainforest. I know someone who makes awesome Macro Photos, just depicting a raindrop on an insect or a leaf on the ground. Focus on the reduction of visual deterrents and reduce the stress in which we are surrounded every day.

Even though I’ll never be (nor want to be) Mary Kondo, the author of “The Art of Tidying up”, I still strive to simplify and reduce. I need space surrounding me. Clutter at home or in my surrounding really drains my energy. No, I am anything but perfect in this realm, but I am definitely working on it. Two major learnings here: everything has its space, and one thing in, at least one thing out!

I’ll continue this journey and will update every now and then, how it is working out.

And never forget to breathe!

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