When you think about the holidays, what feelings come along with it? I might venture to say that much of the original purpose of the winter holiday season has been lost amongst the retail-mania of Black Friday deals and finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list. While gifts can be a great way to show people you care about them, don’t let actually spending time together get lost in the chaos. Here are some ideas for alternative gifts, and fun ways that you can spend the holidays more intentionally with friends and family.
It might be a long weekend or a holiday vacation that takes us out of our usual element. In the new place, we don’t have the same habit triggers that we had at home. The schedule starts to relax and eventually a long-standing habit is broken. Perhaps it’s a particular election that occurs, one that you should probably comment on, but simply can’t quite get the right words together to do so. So you wait. Then it doesn’t quite feel right to write anything else, so you wait some more. Then a month goes by.
I’m speaking in hypotheticals, of course. Definitely not speaking of any one person in particular.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve half-written a bunch of blog posts that you could be reading right now, but none of them felt quite right. At this point, so much has happened that I’m honestly not quite sure what one thing I could write about that would feel like I was making up for lost time. And the longer I let it go, the louder that sound echoed in my brain.
If you’ve felt this way too, understand that it’s completely human. We are not robots. Even though we can build up the discipline muscle over time, getting it stronger, every now and then we pull a muscle and need to take some time to recover. So now that you’re ready to get started, here’s how you can get back on track, too. [Read more…]
There has been quite a bit of discussion around minimalism, what it is, and what it is not. These discussions have inspired me to think more about my beliefs and reflect on what being a minimalist actually means to me.
There is no doubt that learning and implementing the principles of minimalism have changed my life for the better. Before 2014, I knew that the patterns I was beginning to identify weren’t working, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. Buying stuff made me happy, for a while. Heck. Buying stuff still makes me happy, but minimalism has helped change the kind of physical things I choose to spend money on.
From the beginning, Amy and I have subscribed to the idea of rational minimalism provided by Joshua Becker who writes the popular blog becoming minimalist.
Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. —Joshua Becker
It is a relatively simple and straight-forward approach to living a better life with less stuff, which is why we love it.
Despite that over the last two years Break the Twitch has grown to include building habits and creating opportunities, minimizing distractions is one of the three pillars that make up my own definition of intentional living. Without minimizing distractions and removing both mental and physical clutter from our lives, it is incredibly difficult to set up the other two pillars.
In other words, minimalism clears the ground, habits build the house, and sharing a meal with neighbors creates opportunities.
Watch the video on this topic below or by clicking here.
While some people choose to embrace a minimalist lifestyle that requires 100 items or less, I have established some basic beliefs that help focus my life in a meaningful way. I believe that minimalism means:
Detaching self-worth and personal identity from possessions
For the last several decades, we’ve been exposed to messages encouraging us to identify ourselves by associating with brands and physical possessions. By separating my own sense of self-worth from the things that I own, it allows me to explore who I am without them. Instead of relying on a fancy watch to show off my perceived social status, I get to focus on finding ways to contribute, help others, and spread kindness. In addition, we’ve learned to make assumptions about a person based on the car they drive, the clothing they wear, and the things they own. Now, it seems absurd to determine how “successful” a person is based on such trivial information. Through minimalism, we learn that these things mean very little about a person’s character, who they are, and their contributions to the world.
Focus on contribution instead of the impressiveness of consumption to see the true beauty in people.
Not worrying about the things we own, whether too much or too little
While it remains true that the less stuff we own, the less stuff owns us, there does come a point where the opposite is true. Once we start stressing over not-quite-empty spaces or trying to meet a particular guideline of how much stuff we should own, the purpose is defeated. Through minimalism, we free ourselves from the things that no longer serve us and it should stop there. It’s easy to get stuck on owning a certain number of things, but whether you’re stressed about a house full of clutter, or stressed about only owning 100 items or less, it’s still stress. Minimalism means letting go of stress related to possessions in both directions. This creates the freedom to focus people, relationships, contribution, and self-care.
Declutter as much as you think is necessary, then live your life. Feel free to adjust as you see fit.
Understanding what things actually do bring joy and more importantly, why
After two years of minimalism and decluttering, I know what things bring me joy more than ever before. When you carefully assess the things you own and make decisions to keep or discard the items, patterns emerge. After repeating this decision thousands of times now, I’ve come to understand it is the equipment that allows me to create things I love that bring me the most joy. In fact, 99% of the physical possessions I’ve purchased in the last two years are directly related to filmmaking and producing videos for the Break the Twitch YouTube channel. My desire to create increasingly better visual content has led me to realize just how happy it makes me.
Through the slow and steady process of decluttering, seek patterns that help you understand what truly brings you joy.
Having a framework to actively manage what matters and what doesn’t
It’s easy to believe that there is a point where we become “official minimalists™” and suddenly have freedom, time, and energy for all the wonderful things life has to offer. This is undeniably false. I have significant evidence that minimalism is not a finish line you reach, but a framework with which you view the world. It’s a way to actively edit life in a way that allows us to give our best and live our best. Minimalism is truly a journey that lasts a lifetime as our needs and desires will change throughout.
Don’t expect to reach a point where everything clicks. There’s no finish line, just a framework.
Having more flexibility to manage what life brings, both good and bad
When schedules are overbooked and our homes are cluttered with things that do not serve us or our families, the slightest unexpected disruption can cause a negative chain reaction. Imagine a $20 parking ticket that goes unpaid, racks up fines, and eventually causes your vehicle to be impounded. Having the time and financial capacity to pay the $20 fine prevents the chain reaction from happening. While minimalism will not solve all of life’s problems, it will create the space to better deal with them. Imagine an unexpected visit from a friend and being able to enjoy the time visiting instead of stressing out about how untidy the house is. Minimalism helps create this space to enjoy more of the good surprises while also dealing more readily with any unpleasant ones.
Minimalism won’t make all of our problems go away, but it sure does make them easier to deal with.
Whether you agree with these points or disagree, I encourage you to explore what minimalism means to you. Regardless of what philosophy you pursue, I believe that intentionally promoting the things that we most value while removing the things that distract us from it is an idea that works for everyone.
In this popular video, I discuss how to shift from talking about doing, to actually doing. By breaking down the things you want to accomplish into the smallest units possible, it reduces the hurdle to actually taking action. In addition to that, it has become clear that it is not what you do on any particular day that matters. It is the small things you repeatedly do that become the big things you spend your life doing. My favorite quote says this well:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. – Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard’s writing reflects the consistency needed to make significant changes over time. If we try to run a marathon before we’re able to run a mile, it is unlikely we’ll run again the next day due to soreness and exhaustion. We may even be frustrated at our inability to run a marathon and, discouraged, give up completely. It’s the difference between jogging for 10 hours straight then not jogging for 19 days, and jogging for 30 minutes every day for 20 days in a row. While the same hours are spent, I’m sure you can imagine which scenario would be more beneficial.
Over the last eight weeks, I’ve been experimenting with this philosophy and truly putting the push-up theory in the video to the test. About two months ago, I started by doing ten push-ups twice per day. That’s about all that I could do comfortably without being too sore to complete them again the next day. Since then, I’ve done the two sets six days per week, taking a rest day on Sunday, then increasing by two repetitions each Monday. Now, about two months later, I’m doing two sets of 24 push-ups and will be moving up to 26 on Monday. This method of slowly ratcheting up and building a habit really does work.
A fascinating revelation has been this: instead of dreading it, I actually get a dopamine response from doing the push-ups. I now look forward to it each day and enjoy the challenge and progress. If you told me that would be the case when I started, I wouldn’t have believed you for a hot second. What’s really cool is that I’ve never tried to do more than 25 push-ups in a row before, so in a few days, I’ll be setting a new personal record.
Instead of starting with 50, start with one. Do one every day for a week, take Sunday off, then start with two every day the next week. It is as simple as it is effective. Once you reach your desired level, choose a new item to begin building and stack with the one you’ve established. With that in mind, here are 25 ideas for small daily actions you can begin building a habit with from scratch.
- Do one push-up or air squat
- Walk for one minute
- Stretch for one minute
- Step outside and breathe slowly for one minute
- One focused meal per day (sugar-free/meat-free/your choice)
- Learn one new word in a foreign language
- Read one page of a book
- Listen to one short podcast
- Practice 10 minutes of an instrument
- One lesson on Codeacademy
- Watch one instructional video
- Sketch for one minute
- Brainstorm ideas for one minute
- Listen to one song that inspires you
- Write 100 words in a journal or blog
- Meditate for one minute
- Think of one thing you’re grateful for
- 10 minutes of complete screen-free time
- Donate/Recycle/Trash one item
- Read a personal mission statement aloud
- Reach out to an old friend
- One random act of kindness
- Donate a small amount to a worthy cause
- Pay someone a compliment
- Offer to help someone without expectation
Whether you choose something from the list or use the list as inspiration, start on one small action today. There will be plenty of time to build additional habits as you go. Just remember to start small and build up from there, while letting go of the day-to-day results. When the action reflects the intention, the results will come over time.
If you’re interested simplifying your life and taking a long-term approach to changing things for the better, A Simple Year 2017 would likely be a great option for you. It’s a year-long course collaboration with Courtney Carver, Tammy Strobel, Brooke McAlary, Marc and Angel, The Minimalists, Colin Wright, Jules Clancy, Erin Somerville, Cait Flanders, and myself. It’s currently available at an early-bird price until November 13th, so feel free to check it out to take advantage.
Over the last few years, my views about life, work, and fulfillment have been steadily changing. There will likely be no end to that evolution, but one major shift has happened that I’ve only recently been able to express. It is said that life is a marathon, not a sprint but when looking from a holistic perspective I’ve come to believe that neither are true.
After writing my last post (about the False First Step) and finally publishing the idea that I held onto for so long, it felt amazing to put it out into the world. I had finally hit my goal of sharing the idea and even better, it seemed to really resonate with people.
Despite receiving a fair amount of attention (and some criticism), Break the Twitch isn’t any different, other than the fact that there are a few hundred more of you getting this blog post delivered to your email now.
It’s not that I expected anything to change, but for a long time I’ve viewed goals and aspirations in a completely backward way. Maybe it wasn’t a conscious thought, but somewhere lodged in my brain was this idealized concept of success. This magical place where we finally “succeed” in life, everything gets really easy and everything is great. We work hard, sprint towards a goal then, phew. We made it!
I used to want to win the lottery, I mean, how great would it be to never have to work again. While a boatload of cash might solve some financial issues, it won’t actually solve much else unless we really know what to do with it. It’s almost impossible to know what to do with $100 million until we know what to do with $100.
We still have to continue working towards something or else what was the point? All the money in the world won’t do push-ups for us or steam vegetables and feed them to us (well, maybe that last one, eventually). But let’s pretend there is, in fact, that point when we’ve made it, what then?
I remember the last time I had a goal that I wanted to hit by losing weight. It was about four years ago. After six months of working out every day and eating perfectly clean meals, I hit it. Satisfied with my progress, all of the habits that got me to that goal slowly went away. I had achieved my goal. I had succeeded, completed the challenge and then returned right back to the weight I was when I started.
So if there is no finish line, no goal weight, it seems to me that success, or perhaps the life we want to live, is simply a line. And our current lives another line.
It is only doing the things that matter to us each day that begin to blur those two lines together, eventually creating a single existence. Assuming we want to stay there or continue our growth, there is no end where we’ve “made it” and should stop doing the things that got us there.
Perhaps the idea of enlightenment is actually just the consistent pursuit of enlightenment. Greatness, the consistent pursuit of greatness itself.
I’m never* going to sell this website for millions of dollars and cash out so that I can finally do what I want. The hundreds of hours of work that I put into Break the Twitch every month is the life I want. If I want to share my ideas with and, ideally, help more people with my writing, I have to keep writing. If I want to keep a decluttered home, I have to continually declutter and not bring new things into it. I have to continually avoid the temptation of online purchases to make sure that I’ll be ready and able to buy a plane ticket when a good friend gets married and wants me there.
Some days feel successful, others might feel like failures, but every day is a new opportunity to move those lines a little closer together.
For more on this, check out the video below or click here.
*wait, how many million did you say? just kidding.