01 mars 2017

Curiosity is all that counts

Small children know what matters. A cheese sandwich can be the whole world for a while, a train table is endlessly fascinating, or you can just happily play with your own toes or try out different sounds.

Adults have a tendency to complain, a lot. Nothing is ever good enough and the world is always going to hell in one way or another. We are either dwelling on the past or planning for the future. We are very rarely right here and now, unless we are complaining about what isn’t working right now… projecting it into the future, creating our own realities.

Christmas always makes me want to slow down even more. Get rid of all the excess stuff, commitments, frustration and worry. Focus all my time on what is truly important - feeling good, developing and cherishing meaningful relationships, learning, and helping others. Going out into the world with the wide eyed curiosity of a child.

We have a lot of unlearning to do, but I’m on my way. On my way to approaching other people and new experiences with curiosity and acceptance. Assuming people are kind and tolerant until proven wrong. Unlearning the false truths that “You can’t do that, that’s crazy!” and “Sitting still, shutting up and doing as you’re told is the right thing to do.” that we have all been exposed to at some point.
The world is going to hell in a thousand and one ways on any given day. But for every thing that is severely wrong, there are fiftyeleven (yes that’s an actual number) things going right, and I’d rather contribute to making that fiftytwelve things (not an actual number… yet)!

There will always be something to fight about. But take this opportunity - wherever you are - to stop for a minute. Slow down a bit. Notice where you are. The sounds, the smell. Complain a little less. Smile at the weather or the traffic chaos or the frustrating behaviors around you. Give someone a hug. Make sure a homeless person gets a warm meal and a roof over their head tonight. Crawl under a mountain of down and wool and be grateful for what you have.

Right here right now it is very peaceful, and for that I am eternally grateful.

What can you change in your own life to make sure the world becomes a kinder and more tolerant place? Do. Act. Create something of value. The world needs more love today, and on all other days. Take care of each other. Whatever happens, we are sailing this boat together.

Unknown photo source, I found it on Deviant Art at least five years ago and still love it.

05 februari 2017

Dare to shine

I’ve been obsessed with film music for a long time. I would watch the extras to movies like Pirates, Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera until the center of the DVDs cracked. I’m also way more interested in seeing the behind the scenes action than the result. Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski doing their find the peanut routine cracks me up every single time. Keira Knightley kicking ass sword fighting. Keenan Kampa dancing. Helena Bonham Carter singing. Benedict Cumberbatch actually playing the violin. Tim Burton drawing or directing. Hans Zimmer composing.

Hans Zimmer is a genius. I recently watched a recording of his live tour and I swear I had goose bumps for two hours straight and regular chills down my spine. He’s treating it like a GIANT jam session and it’s awesome. The way he layers different sounds and unexpected instruments… I don’t care what it’s called, it’s pure brilliance.

There is something about watching exceptionally talented people do extraordinary things that are sometimes completely out of their comfort zone - especially when they weren’t trained to do it to begin with. It gives me hope that if I want to I can learn to do whatever I want.

I played the piano when I was younger and can sort of read sheet music, but that’s as far as my musical knowledge stretches. I’d be hard pressed to distinguish between a violin and a viola despite having friends who play both. But I think we all have an intimate relationship with the effects of music. We also all had someone we admired so much they annoyed us into jealousy when we were younger, whether they were acting, dancing, playing an instrument, singing, or something else entirely. Maybe we still do. Watching someone do their own thing is fascinating and inspiring in equal measure! It doesn’t matter if it’s photo editing, painting, programming or gardening.

I’ll never forget Alex just staring at me and exclaiming something like “You’re just so damn happy!” in a slightly exasperated manner while I was bouncing around like a small child on Christmas during prom practice. In Linköping, prom is serious business. We practiced Wiener waltz for several months and I listened to An der schönen blauen Donau more times than I can count, twirling as fast as the limited space in my bedroom would allow. The only thing that has kept me from signing up for a dance course is that I couldn’t decide between tango, quickstep and salsa. I considered ballet, too. I don’t have to become an expert in either of these, just trying something would be great. I certainly wouldn’t expect to ever go on pointe. Hmm… that last was a lie. I’m nothing if not ambitious, still.
Aspiring never got anyone anywhere though, you actually have to do something about it. You have to choose. Find a focus, at least for a while. Do I want to paint aquarelle, take up my singing lessons, or learn some type of dance or another? I hate choosing, but what happens when I don’t choose is this:
Instead of picking one thing and going for it, I often sit on my hands waiting for divine intervention or something, which is about the most useless thing you could ever do. What is it that makes us think procrastinating will help? Just pick one. You can always change your mind, and change it again. Fear and lack of knowledge (which boils down to fear of the unknown) are usually the real obstacles, in one shape or another. If you have identified that, you’re well on your way to beating that inner indecisive coward of yours.

Honestly, there’s a part of me that just wants to get up on stage and never get off. It doesn’t matter if it’s an actual stage or just a room with (sometimes a lot of) other people in it. The rest of me is absolutely terrified of doing just that. But honestly, we all step up on stage every single day, whether it’s in our relationships, at work, in various hobbies or some other activity we undertake. We all have infinite opportunities to create something of value that we can be proud of, every day. Regardless of your circumstances, don’t limit your power - go find more of it! Wherever you are right now, there’s plenty more where that came from! Nothing beats a healthy dose of curiosity and an unlimited appetite for life.

Take a long hard look at the obstacles, then promptly get them out of your way. Unleash your creative ambitions, whatever they are!

What are you gonna do today that you didn’t do yesterday?

28 januari 2017

Take the leap!

Sometimes you just gotta do it. Don't think, don't breathe, just take the plunge. If you feel excited about it, go for it. It's scary, you have no idea what's gonna happen or how it'll turn out. But guess what - you can always change your mind later. Nothing lasts forever, and sometimes the most sane thing to do is to kill your darlings. But that's later, in the future. Possibly.

For now, just go tell someone about whatever it is you want to do before you get the chance to back out.

22 januari 2017

"Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self."
- Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen

03 januari 2017

The Year of Freedom

Freedom for me is challenging my limits. Looking my fears in the eye and resolutely tackling them head on. Breaking down barriers, walking through open doors, opening others, letting more light in. Letting go of some dreams to welcome others. If you keep pushing your boundaries you will soon be cruising in your discomfort zone where nothing is impossible, while your comfort zone grows exponentially.

I’m trying something new this year. A theme. A sparkly subtitle to 2017. No planning in minute detail. Generally applicable without losing power. A clear direction and a worthy yardstick for my focus.

The Year of Freedom

Core desired feelings:
  1. Free
  2. Centered
  3. Connection
Core values:

  1. Health
  2. Relationships
  3. Passion
  4. Growth
  5. Contribution

Reading The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey, and listening to The Minimalists podcast while questioning my habits and dreams proved to be a potent combination. Revealing and soul opening in a very heartwarming way. Shining a light in corners that have just been waiting to be (re)discovered.

Core desired feelings

Possibly the greatest invention so far by Danielle LaPorte, along with the whole Desire Map process. As a brainstorming nerd who loves braindump writing, I approve! The result: three well curated little words that hold immense power. Moving a little closer to these feelings or states of being on a daily basis… boom. Success = guaranteed. They don’t have to make sense to you - they hold infinite meaning and have about 30 synonyms each for me.

Core values

These have been borrowed straight from The Minimalists because they make perfect sense in all their simplicity. Anything I can think of that I really want fits into several of these. Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be, simplicity rocks.

As an engineer, IT consultant and organization freak, frameworks hold tremendous appeal for me. I need something to hang my desires and intentions on, a system to support my wandering mind and facilitate the actual execution. In the past this has involved detailed schedules, spreadsheets, planners and Trello boards. I know. Believe me, I know. Paralysis by analysis.

You need to use the right tool for the job, but I think my root problem was lousy goals. I just didn’t feel them as joy, as moving towards increased happiness and contribution to the world. That’s not the tools’ fault - scrum/kanban/scrumban boards, spreadsheets, planners and schedules are great for many things. Just make sure you tune into what you actually want and need first. No planning in the world can save a crappy project.

I have taken this for some serious test drives, and for all intents and purposes I’m already practicing it. Physical, mental and social freedom resonates in a profound way. Letting go of worry and just going for it. Any step I take in this direction will be a victory. Good bye should dos, hello power!

Just start and do it now saves me when I find myself struggling to choose, and aligning my actions with these 8 little words will make for an awesome 2017, no matter what it brings.

More than anything this requires allowing myself to fail. Trying new things without letting the fear of failure hold me back. Make my mind up and charge ahead with clear intentions. I will stumble and I will fall, but 2016 has taught me that there is great clarity to be found in chaos. Great comfort to be found in the unknown. You will catch yourself when you fall, and when you need a little help other people will step up if you let them.

No matter what happens everything will always work out for the best even if you never end up exactly where you intended. Different is just that - different. It is movement, and as long as you are moving in a positive direction nothing can go wrong. It is already right. Curiosity and genuinely meaning well will get you everywhere, though never in the way you thought. Roll with it.

Source: bemorewithless by Courtney Carver.

What are you going to do to fall a little more in love with 2017 for each day that passes?

29 december 2016

Sometimes all you need is some distance

Go for a walk and clear your head instead of ploughing on in frustration. Take a coffee break with a colleague instead of powering through, and vow not to do any complaining. Work from home for a day, meet a friend, take out your aggressions in the gym, cook an awesome meal or try something new. Get out of there for a while. Jump head first into something else entirely. Sometimes you have to drudge through the drudgery to get where you’re going, but putting your head through a wall never helps. Go find another perspective, course correct just a little along the way, force yourself to focus on something else. The so called insurmountable problem will often appear in a better light if you do.

A few months ago, a colleague told me the following:
“It might look like I’m just walking around, chatting with people, drinking coffee and eating bananas, but in here *points to temple* I’m solving the problem. I just think better that way.”
Amen to that. Step away from the canvas and give yourself a chance to figure out what you’re actually painting before charging ahead.
Click through to read some of the latest and greatest by Gav of Zen Pencils.

19 december 2016

Finding joy in running

I sucked at running for a really long time. I still remember my PE teacher’s astounded look when I didn’t finish last in our last run in 9th grade (yeah, I do silly things like never forgetting stuff like that... don’t be like me, it’s much better to just let go of that crap). I didn’t like it, it was impossible most of the time despite my best efforts. My throat ached, side stitches and foot cramps was my body’s default setting, and I could barely breathe. At one point in 2013 I got up to 10K and I was so proud I could burst, but it still wasn’t fun or easy, at all. I ran that 10K and then I quit. After a 3 year break, that all changed.

Suddenly I was surrounded by people who loved running, were excited about running, knew a lot about it and sometimes seemingly even lived for running. I was seriously intrigued, but it took a long time before I started thinking that maybe I could learn to be that excited and happy about it, too. It was a radical mental shift, from something I should do to something I could potentially feel euphoric doing. That was exactly the shift I needed. Practicing deep breathing for about a year prior had also taught me how to breathe properly, and I had finally understood the importance of drinking enough water.

I still remember the euphoria when I first broke 17K and felt like I could keep going forever. Man that was cool, and I promptly had to tell all the most important people in my life about it. I swear you turn into an unbearable social media freak when you feel really awesome about something you do. That’s okay. Maybe half the people seeing a picture of my GPS watch or my new running shoes think I’m just another nag who does those things to get more attention, but hopefully the people who really matter see that I am just happy as hell and want to share my joy with as many people as possible. The people who matter the most to you will just be happy for you, no matter how crazy or weird they think you are for doing whatever you’re doing.

Was it easy? NO. Was it fun? YES!! I had some false starts and bumps along the way. I started way too ambitiously and limped for about 3 weeks. I ate and slept too little and then tried to run 20K. I had to skip three races because I wasn't feeling well. The summer heat got stuck in my head and I frequently had to stop and almost drown myself in the nearest pool of water. I ran a half marathon on the worst day of my period in 23 degree Celsius heat and literally wanted to quit over half the distance, but powered through because I.am.no.damn.quitter. I made myself a promise and I kept it. That is worth more than any medal or pat on the back you can get.

Limping for three weeks and running into that famous wall already at 13K taught me that my body actually has limits, limits I have never really approached or challenged before, and so wasn't aware of. It hit me like a sledgehammer - had I ever attempted to do any serious physical activity for over 2 hours straight without resting before? No. That was cool, learning that I can push my physical boundaries as far as I'd like as long as I learn how to. It also taught me patience. Some people will laugh at that, and it's true patience is not my strongest virtue, but all that means is that I have ample room for improvement to work with.

Skipping those races seriously challenged that patience. I had paid good money for them, everyone I know knew about them, and I had been running regularly for 3-4 months to prepare for them. I was feeling strong and had had no serious injuries since my mistake of starting out like a complete n00b. Bit like a balloon popping, really. But health is more important than money or pride or even proving something to yourself. At least that's what I told myself while in bed, stuffing my face with whatever I could find, huffing and puffing and swearing loudly. It was an important lesson to learn, and I proved something else to myself - that I can override my immediate wants, goals and feelings and do what I know is right. Funny how you can turn all perceived failures into a life lesson, an Aha! experience, a success... reframing it, finding the perspective that throws a different light on the situation.

Most of my long runs have been utterly amazing. Sunday sunsets in Stockholm during late summer and fall are fantastic. I never feel better or think more clearly than when I’m running about 20-30K a week. As a bonus I had to learn to take care of myself better than ever to be able to run that much, and the benefits of eating, sleeping, hydrating, stretching and breathing properly have spilled over into all other areas of my life. I have learned that I’m exceptionally prone to experiencing Runner’s High, so much so that according to my physical therapeut I got sciatica from running too much simply because I feel so damn good doing it. My body doesn’t know when to stop because it’s just happy as hell.

45 minutes of approx. 40 kg pressure on an elbow in all my most painful spots sorted out the sciatica... and I’m never skipping my foam rolling and stretching again, cause ouch. I would likely have gotten it anyway at some point. Things that are out of alignment tend to make themselves known when you put your body through it's paces. If anything I have learned to deal with those things instead of ignoring the slight pain here and there, working on correcting habits that would eventually give me more significant issues. I've even gotten rid of my regular foot cramps with my trusty double massage ball, and my doctor has pretty much given me permission to walk around without shoes on at work. Okay, call it excuse if you want, I'll take it anyway ;)

I wanted to be a runner for the longest time, but for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t until I had given up on it completely that it kinda found me, at what seemed to be the perfect time. See? Life is actually frigging fabulous, and it can only get better from here. Just start somewhere, try something that intrigues you, and see where you end up. It won’t ever be what you expected, but it will be different and it will be awesome. Ditch some dreams that aren’t floating your boat anymore, find some that will. It won’t be awesome all the time, but over time it’ll be pretty goddamn great. Bit like investing. If you watch ‘em like a hawk you’ll just feel miserable and make stupid mistakes, but over time - BOOM.

I miss running. I had the flu for a week and a stubborn cough for over a month and now it’s suddenly winter. I am considering getting some serious winter gear so I can get out there without risking my neck on the icy roads, or even getting on the conveyor belt at the gym. Not running literally drives me nuts these days… something about my body being used to a whole new level of endorphins zooming around. But I can live with that addiction, because I have never had more energy.

Have you ever gotten yourself into something that gave you more than you could’ve possibly imagined?

10 december 2016

Sometimes you need permission

Permission to do what you want to do. What you know is right. Permission to trust yourself, to trust others, to try something new or tell someone the truth. The whole truth. Risk conflict or rejection. A nudge, a push over the edge to take the leap. Don’t be ashamed of your need, go get that external validation and support in whatever way you can! Friends, colleagues, family, therapists, blogs, books, talks, events, forums. Don’t be afraid of what you want. Fear and shame is a terrible anchor, a weight none of us should have to carry. Don’t be ashamed of your desires. Want what you want with your whole heart and ask for help, because the universe will always deliver to those who dare. More specifically, the people around you will deliver.

One of my main takeaways from this past year is this:
Needing help is profoundly human, and based on the assumption that we want to give back as much as we can, we all deserve all the help we can get.
Asking for help is scary, but if you do people will respond in the most spectacular way. Sincerity feeds on sincerity, and wanting to be of service, to be useful and make a difference in somebody else’s life is a deeply human trait. We love helping each other, but we rarely give ourselves the chance to. Be it fear, shame, getting caught up in the trappings of our own lives, or not wanting to be a nuisance, we often find reasons not to ask the really important questions. We stick to complaining about what isn’t working and plough on with what we perceive to be most important right now.

Despite being an observer, a Highly Sensitive Person who notices and remembers pretty much everything, I still struggle to take the time to really see the people around me, to be present. Ask the right questions, the important questions. I still get frustrated with people all the time, try to control my surroundings, or get caught up in if that person would just do this or do that things will be so much better for all of us. It doesn’t work like that, no matter how good your intentions are. Trying to control anyone but yourself is a futile endeavor.

Listening takes time, it takes energy, but it is one of the most important things you could ever do. If you really show up, bruises and all, other people will too - just like you would for them. We are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves - use that fact to all of our advantage.

Asking for help also leads to some unexpected and downright awkward as hell situations. People are unpredictable in the sense that you will never get exactly what you expect or think you need. Instead you will get so much more than what you imagined possible. What it comes down to is this:

Which option is the most scary?
  1. Taking the leap, risking the humiliation, tackling the fear of ridicule and the potential social and psychological consequences, or
  2. Continue living in fear and worry over this seemingly significant defect in yourself or your life, or that thing you wish you could do, ashamed of your fear of asking.
Taking the leap always wins when I ask myself this question.

Daring means doing something about it, taking action, moving forward. Being a chicken shit means nothing will change, that you will continue acting and feeling this way. Moreover, you will continue to be ashamed of being a chicken shit, and that’s no way to live. Somewhere in the middle lies complaining, which in itself leads to nothing but hurt and draining of energy - both your own and others’.

What are you afraid of, worrying about, analyzing to death, dwelling on, fighting about, wishing could be different? A feeling is just a feeling, but it is always a sign of something. Try to examine it rationally. What can you do about it? Is it worth bothering with? If so, who and what can help you get where you want to go?


03 december 2016

Upgrading the lunchbox

I became an avid fan of the home made boxed meal after many caffeinated hours reading Mr Money Mustache, Frugalwoods and Early Retirement Extreme. I was living off student loans (approx. 9 500 SEK/month, 10 months/year at the time). Spreadsheets and outrageously optimistic (yet realistic) financial projections have a way of appealing to the logical and highly rational part of my brain, with the resulting financial security and lack of worry appealing to the emotional side in equal measure. I set a target and dove right in, managing to save 50% of my “income”* by making better decisions in general and grocery shopping with my middle finger in particular. I cut my grocery spending in half while transitioning to an all organic, no processed foods, vegetarian diet.

My income has dramatically increased since then, but my target of at least a 50% savings rate remains. Allowing myself a LOT of wiggle room instead of instantly ramping that up to 70% took some getting used to, but that’s a story for another time about how to identify your awesome enough level without slipping back into the role of a Sukka Consumer. I no longer need to eat lots of lentil soup, root veggies, beans, eggs and bananas to make the cut, but I’d still rather spend 70-90% less on each meal compared to the average restaurant lunch.

Even though it feels like a nuisance at times, those savings add up to significant amounts of money that I’d rather spend on something that adds even more value to my life.

I’ve been slipping up for a long time, once again falling for the social norm of eating out. That’s okay. It feels convenient and efficient until you take a long hard look at what else you could do with that money, not to mention what you could do with the time you’re spending just waiting in line. Most of the time I have no doubt that I can create an even more enjoyable meal in my own kitchen for a fraction of the cost - I just need to figure out how. I love to cook and I love to learn new things, so do I really want to do less of those things?

It may take a long time to realize that you have slipped back into an old habit you know isn’t contributing to your long term happiness. That’s okay. In the process I have identified some habits that do - developing my relationships and social skills, and taking a distinct break from work. Lunch time away from the office certainly contributes to those, so after some appropriate course correction my new target is 2-3 lunch boxes per week.

I find that the biggest challenge is to figure out what to cook. Cooking for yourself isn’t nearly as fun as having company, but that doesn’t mean you have to live off meh food. As so often is the case, what it comes down to is awareness and knowledge: 1. What do I want? 2. How do I make that happen? 3. Make it happen!
Off the top of my head:
  • Halloumi burger with fries
  • Roasted root veggies with bean salad
  • Wrap with veggies (lots of mashed avocados!)
  • Adzuki lasagna with spinage
  • Carrot soup with ginger, kidney beans and mozzarella
  • Pad thai
  • Rice and roasted veggies with peanut sauce
  • Vanilla quark with rolled oats, banana and raspberries
  • Carbonara with portobello mushroom
  • Saffron veggie stew with rice
  • Blueberry pancakes
Just writing that made me hungry - a sure sign I’m onto something better than lentil soup. With the exception of the root veggies and pancakes, none of these meals are particularly cheap (unless you compare them to a meat-with-add-ons diet), but they sure make the cut for “cheaper, tastier and healthier than the average restaurant lunch”. I also get to cook a lot and spend less time waiting, all of which contributes to feeling even better. Hmm… I know what I’m doing with my 10% off everything coupon at the local grocery store this weekend!

It’s time to renew my food commitment to myself - vegetarian, organic, very few processed foods. Other than that, let’s go nuts in the kitchen! I am a Sukka for challenges of all kinds!
What are some of your best ideas for awesome meals?

* With an interest rate of 1.2% I never considered not taking that loan. It’s been down to 0.6% for a long time, and has been lowered to 0.34% for 2017. It’s basically free money that allowed me to get ahead and find my financial footing even before I got my first full time job. Thanks very much indeed.

Additional inspiration

Killing your 1000$ Grocery Bill (MMM)
Frugalize Your Groceries (Frugalwoods)
What Does A Frugal Person Eat? (Frugalwoods)
"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!"
-  Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967