Crawl or Fly

Time flies when you're having fun, and time crawls when you're not having fun.

Think about how long an hour feels when you're stuck at a desk doing less-than-exciting things, just waiting for the clock to reach the time when you're permitted to do something you love.

It stands to reason that if we could have fun during unenjoyable activities, we'd theoretically be able to fast forward through them.

For example, I'm teaching karate camp this week, which means six hours of the same twenty kids every day, which means I need an endless supply of patience and emotional strength. It would be very easy to wake up miserable every morning, watch the minutes tick by, and only think about how great it's going to feel when the day is over.

But thinking that way actually makes the day feel slower. If I try to make the best of it, the day goes by faster, which makes the experience itself less miserable and—because time flies when you're having fun—it makes 3 PM arrive sooner rather than later.

If I was sitting at a desk all day, I'd want to make it as enjoyable as possible: keep the area clutter-free, buy some decent speakers to listen to music, and maybe add something to my desk that makes me smile when I look at it.

The point is that the quality of our experience during times we don't enjoy is entirely dependent on our ability to make the best of them. So when I wake up in just a few short hours to spend yet another day teaching the same rambunctious kids, I have to decide whether I want to make the day fly or crawl.

It's up to me, and to you.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Exhale Everything You Don't Need

Note from Andrew: I wrote this essay many months ago as a contribution to an ebook that has yet to come to fruition. It was originally titled Mind Over Desk. I like it and felt it was time to share. Enjoy.

The Breath

In yoga, we are taught the importance of breath. The breath is everything. It isn't yoga without breath.

The inhale nourishes us. It is cool, refreshing, and empowering. It fills us with strength and calm.

The exhale cleanses us. It releases pain, anxiety, and other threats to our inner peace.

Inhale, and exhale. It repeats endlessly throughout the practice.

"Inhale fully... Exhale everything you don't need."

It was in that moment—upon hearing my teacher's words with sweat pouring down my face and my muscles burning gloriously—that I recognized the breath as the perfect metaphor for minimalism.

"Exhale everything you don't need."

The Problem with Minimalism

The problem with minimalism is that it too often becomes its own insidious distraction.

It sounds paradoxical. What could be more productive than getting rid of distractions? Well, I appreciate an empty desk as much as the next guy, but when we spend more time devising minimal work environments than making great stuff, it's time to step back and reevaluate.

Distraction-free is lovely, but it should never prevent us from doing the work. You are not a writer if you can only write under certain conditions, i.e. only with an empty desk, and a black Pilot G-2 0.38mm, and a specific brand of notebook. Or, only with Microsoft Word, Byword, or BBEdit.

A writer writes—anytime, anywhere, with anything.

The truth is, your desk doesn't matter. Your pen doesn't matter. Your text editor doesn't matter. What matters is your work and the amazing things you create.

If you like a clean workspace, then do it. If you like piles of paper, then please, enjoy. If you like having a stapler on your desk at all times, go for it. These things are not what minimalism is about.

Well, then what IS minimalism about?

Go back to the breath.

Mental Minimalism

In yoga, the breath allows us to stay calm, even when we're uncomfortable. So it is with minimalism.

Minimalism is about the elimination of unnecessary things, yes. But more importantly, it is about the elimination of unnecessary thoughts.

What matters more than your ability to throw out clutter is your ability to let go of the needless intangibles. The emotions, fears, and thoughts that make your mind a cluttered and unproductive place.

I spend a lot of time pursuing inner peace. What's that mean? Inner peace is the ideal state of being. It's the goal. It's what everyone wants. Inner peace means being totally content, physically, mentally, emotionally. You have no worries. You have no wants, needs, or desires. You have no fears. True inner peace is a place of enlightenment.

Minimalism—or more precisely, mental minimalism—is the way there.

Eliminate Needless Thoughts

In the same way a clean desk may enable us to do great work, a clear mind allows us to live great lives. We become calmer, happier, and more productive. A mind free of unhealthy thoughts is a mind at peace.

But, eliminating needless thoughts is considerably more difficult than throwing out old coffee cups. To establish a free mind—and thus, our inner peace— we must first learn to let go.

  • Let go of the need to control. To achieve mental minimalism, you must understand one crucial fact: you have control over nothing and no one in this world. The only thing you can control is your mind and how it deals with what happens to you.

  • Let go of expectations. Expectations are attachments to outcomes, and they are a guaranteed way to disappointment. When something you believe turns out not to be true, the pain can be excruciating. Learn to manage your expectations, and you will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Let go of unnecessary relationships. Life is too short to waste on people who mean nothing to you. Always ask yourself, "What does this person contribute to my life?" If the answer is anything less than positive, let them go. It will free up more time for those who matter.

  • Let go of unnecessary things. Yes, the removal of needless objects is valuable, but only in its capacity to release pressures from your mind. The more things you have, the more things you need to store, fix, maintain, and keep track of. But, when something in your life is useful or beautiful, you will feel no guilt over its presence.

Exhale Everything You Don't Need

Implementing these principles is a lifelong endeavor. Only a truly enlightened individual can experience inner peace all the time. For the rest of us, inner peace comes in the form of brief, blissful moments when, for a few seconds, we are completely content with who we are.

The modern world is more than happy to supply us with an endless amount of mental clutter. We fear, worry, stress, and agonize over a great many things, none of which are under our direct control.

What we can and must learn to control are our minds. By eliminating needless thoughts, we release our minds from toxic ideas that threaten our inner peace, just as the breath cleanses and nourishes the body.

What we seek is a minimalism of the mind. Just as there can be no creation on a desk buried under clutter, there can be no inner peace in a mind filled with anxieties.

Clear off the clutter, and you will find space. Let go of needless thoughts, and you will free your mind to discover who you are and what truly matters.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

"What Do You Care?"

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.
-Lao Tzu

I've been obsessed with Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee ever since Shawn Blanc linked to it a couple of weeks ago.

The premise is that Jerry Seinfeld borrows a classic, old car and picks up one of his comedian friends for coffee. Their conversation is recorded and edited into a fifteen-minute film.

One of my favorite moments is in episode one when Larry David suggests that his picky eating was one of the reasons his marriage ended:

Larry David: I stopped drinking coffee, and she hated it. I said, "What do you care?" I had tea in the cup. She said, "Well we can't even share coffee in the morning anymore." I said, "But there's something in my cup! You can't see what's in my cup. I'm still sipping! There's still steam coming out of it! What's the difference?!"

Jerry Seinfeld: I know. I ordered soup the other day. Somebody said, "That's all you're gonna get?" What the hell do you care?

I don't mean to sound rude, but I think they have a point. Why do we care? Sometimes there's a good reason, but many times there isn't.

Let's use the tea example.

When we care about what someone else is drinking, we are attaching some small part of our inner peace to that person and their actions. Because we can't control that person or what they drink, we risk feeling discontent when they don't act in the way we've expected them to.

We allow ourselves to be affected by other people like this all the time. It's a perfectly natural, human thing. Of course we should care about what our loved ones think. But when it comes to minutia—like what someone's drinking—I can't see any worthwhile reason to care.

Ask yourself, "How does this person's decision affect me?"

If the answer is that it doesn't, that's great. Let go, and become a little bit more free.

If the answer is something negative, ask yourself why. Is it a good reason, or is it kind of silly?

In either case, the good news is that, while you have no control over the other person, you do have control over you, which allows you to free yourself as long as you choose to do so.

Merlin Mann came up with a terrific response to these situations on Back to Work. When faced with something silly—perhaps even something serious—that has a negative effect on you, simply say to yourself:

I've chosen not to let it bother me.

By acknowledging the fact that you cannot control anything other than yourself and how you react to what goes on around you, you enable yourself to rise above whatever it was that was disturbing your inner peace.

Let them drink tea. Let them order soup. Everything will be alright. Trust me. There are more important things to worry about.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.


Greetings, QLE readers, and a happy Friday to you.

It’s been a dark week here on QLE, and I hope I didn’t scare any of you off with my morbidity. I had an emotional Sunday, and I ended up writing most of this week’s articles the following morning.

Writing is incredibly therapeutic, especially when you can’t say everything you want to say to the person you want to say it. In such cases, I find that the best thing to do is to write, and write, and write. Empty your mind. Get everything you’re dying to say out of your head and onto paper or your computer screen.

And remember to breathe.

It helps.

A lot.

Despite the fact that I want QLE to be an enjoyable and uplifting corner of the Internet, I opted to publish this week’s pieces because life offers just as many dark moments as light ones. It’s all part of the experience.

Inner peace means existing in a state of utter contentment — for a whole day, an hour, or even just a few moments. You have no wants, needs, worries, or fears. It’s very rare, but that’s what we’re here to practice and achieve.

Conversely, one could argue that any time we aren’t experiencing true inner peace, we are plagued with the desire for things to be other than the way they are. Sometimes it’s just a little twinge in the back of your head, sometimes it ruins your whole Sunday, and sometimes it makes your world collapse. In any case, I don’t wish to shy away from the really dark moments. We need to learn how to get through all of it, from a messy desk to the death of a loved one.

As always, I want to ensure that every article I post contains value for you as a reader. I don’t want to waste your time. With that in mind, I will always do my best in the aforementioned dark moments to offer some ray of light, some sense of possible resolution, for myself and for you. You will never see a post about how everything sucks and there is no hope — end of article — on this website. No matter how dark things get. Promise.

I appreciate you sticking with me this week, and I wish you the best in your pursuit of inner peace.

Have a positively radiant weekend,

(P.S. Between you and me… awesome stuff coming up. Tell you more later. Shhh.)

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Next Better Thing

What do you do when the love of your life decides they don’t want the job?

Like any loss, the first reaction is denial. It doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense. How can your heart be so sure of something, and then be wrong? How can your heart be wrong?

What makes someone the love of your life is that they defy expectations. They supersede all of your past relationships, and you can’t possibly envision someone better. You think, this is it. I don’t have to look anymore.

Unless they don’t agree.

And when that happens, we have no choice in the matter. All the confidence and love in the world is not enough to make someone feel something they don’t feel.

The pain and grief comes not only out of the loss of that person, but of the realization that now you’re back to zero. You thought you had a ten on your hands, and now you have nothing. And the despair comes from being unable to possibly imagine anything ever coming close to what you’ve lost.

But the thing is, something better will come.

You only know the love of your life so far. It’s easy to declare someone the best when you have no knowledge of who else is to come after. Sometimes, your heart is right, and there is no one else.

But when your heart is wrong, the only thing you can do is trust that the next best thing — the next better thing — is yet to come. Even if you can’t possibly imagine who they are, someone better is coming. Someone who defies your expectations in ways you’ve never even dreamed of.

It sounds impossible, but that’s because seeing is believing. It’s impossible to envision someone better until that someone arrives. But they are coming. We have to believe and be ready.

They’re on their way.

How to Be Awesome

Someone I know referred to this site as “a blog about being awesome”.

I think that’s a reasonable statement, but with one important distinction:

This is not a blog about how you have to be like me to be awesome.

This is a blog about how you have to be you to be awesome.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The What-Ifs

Often when I’m teaching my karate students a new technique, they’ll start coming up with lots of hypothetical situations.

“What if the guy is way bigger than you?!”

“What if he has a baseball bat?!”

“What if this happens?!”

“What if that happens?!”

I usually answer the first few before asking one of my own:

“What if he grows an extra set of arms?! Then you’ll really be in trouble.”

The thing about the what-ifs is that A) there are an infinite number of them, and B) we can only be so prepared for each. In martial arts, the idea is to be trained well enough to be able to adapt to any situation. Obviously training and rehearsing for every single scenario is impossible, so we teach concepts and techniques that — with diligent practice — will come out naturally, as needed. You can’t ask a bad guy to please punch again so that you can perform your technique of choice on him. You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.

After sixteen years of training, I’ve learned not to worry about the what-ifs. I have to trust that my body will react appropriately.

I have a much harder time, though, dealing with what-ifs that don’t involve hand-to-hand combat.

I was grocery shopping with my dad a couple of weeks ago, and I was updating him on some aspect of my life in which I needed his advice. I spoke for about twenty minutes straight, rapid-fire, analyzing this and that, far more animated and expressive than I am on a regular basis. He listened patiently, at times cracking up over my out-of-character enthusiasm.

And of course, most of my ranting arose out of a million what-ifs. If this, then that, but if that, then this, and if this, what about THAT, and so on.

It felt good to get all of that analysis out of my head, but when I was done, I was still right back where I was twenty minutes earlier. I had no new information. All I had was what I knew. Nothing more, nothing less.

We can drive ourselves crazy thinking about the what-ifs, but in reality, we can only be so prepared. Preparation is good, but worrying about an infinite number of things that haven’t happened can be exhausting.

We can’t work with what may or may not exist. We have to concentrate on what we know, and wrestle with the here and now. And when something unexpected comes up — when a what-if actually occurs — we have to trust that our hearts and minds will react accordingly.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The QLE VIP List & 25 Things: The QLE Manifesto

Today I’m pleased to announce the QLE VIP Mailing List and the debut of 25 Things: The Quarter-Life Enlightenment Manifesto.

Awesome! Wait, what?

A few months ago, I wrote a post detailing 25 things I’ve learned in 25 years. These 25 Things are the ideas, mantras, words of wisdom, etc., that I believe in the most. I repeat them to myself on a regular basis, and I’ve found them to be the most valuable in my pursuit of inner peace.

In short, these 25 Things form the foundation of what QLE stands for.

As such, I decided to polish them up and compile them into a handsome, travel-sized ebook in .pdf format.

That sounds nice, but how do I get it? Is it expensive?

25 Things is totally free, and you can get it by becoming a QLE VIP.

What’s a QLE VIP?

The QLE VIP Mailing List is a special newsletter for hardcore QLE fans only. It’s not the same as subscribing to the blog via email. It’s a separate list, and it’s a very important one.

QLE VIPs will be the first to know about new ebooks, products, services, and other happenings. You’ll get access to exclusive QLE VIP content. You’ll enjoy discounted rates for all of the above, and you’ll also get top secret other benefits that I cannot utter here.

Joining the list is totally free.

Rest assured that I won’t spam you, sell your email address, or deliver an onslaught of garbage to your inbox.

I promise to email you only when it’s both very important and very exciting.

If you enjoy your time here, and you want more, joining the QLE VIP List is the best way to do it.

Sounds like a bribe.

Kind of. But:

25 Things is my gift to you for becoming a QLE VIP. It’s my way of saying thank you for reading and supporting the site as it enters its second year next month.

I’ve been writing this website for almost a year, and it’s become a true labor of love. I wasn’t sure I could do it at first. I thought I’d start it and then lose interest. I thought it’d be a waste of time. But I didn’t. It’s not.

QLE is my Internet home. It’s my way of documenting my pursuit of inner peace and helping others achieve it for themselves. I love it very much, and it’s time to take it to the next level. The VIP List is just the start.

Please note that you are under no obligation to join the list. It’s merely an option — a bonus of sorts — for those who want to go further in their support of the site and/or deeper in their pursuit of inner peace.

QLE is and will always be a free online publication. You’re welcome to read the blog as much or as little as you like. You’re welcome to leave now and never come back. I won’t mind. Seriously.

For those of you who’ve enjoyed yourself, you’re welcome to stay, and I’m so very thankful for you.

And, if you want the VIP treatment, come on in. I think you’ll like it.

All you need to sign up is an email address, and you’ll receive a link to download 25 Things: The Quarter-Life Enlightenment Manifesto in your welcome email.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled program tomorrow, but if you’d like to start your week off like a rockstar…

Join the QLE VIP Mailing List.

Let’s do this.

Wonderful. Thank you. Really. You’re awesome. Gorgeous. Brilliant. Exceptional.

Welcome. And thanks.

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Breathe to Be Free

Sometimes, my mind is a terrible place to be.

Yesterday, I spent most of my brain power thinking about one thing. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. For hours. Even while I was doing other things, it kept creeping back in. I was trapped in my own head by my own thoughts.

I didn’t want to be thinking about it because thinking wasn’t going to do me any good. I was thinking about something out of my control, which is fruitless, and which I’m usually pretty good at not doing. Usually.

But, as is the way of things, the harder I tried not to think about it, the more the thoughts took root in my brain.

Don’t think of pink elephants.


It wasn’t until I went to yoga that I was able to free myself from this thought process. Allow me to explain.

Yoga is all about breath. In some ways, the breath is the most difficult part. Sure, the poses are hard, but trying to keep your mind focused on the moment — rather than on the thousands of worries waiting for you outside the studio — is another challenge altogether. While sweat is pouring down your face, and your muscles are burning gloriously, and your mind is darting from one thing to the next, maintaining that inhale… exhale… is really freaking hard.

But that’s the point.

Yoga teaches us how to be calm when we’re uncomfortable. It’s an invaluable skill, particularly when not doing yoga.

And so it was only when I started to focus on the breath that I was able to break free from my mental captors.

If you’re focusing on the breath, you’re in the moment. The breath is what’s happening right now. If you focus on the inhale… and exhale… you’re not worrying about what happened today, yesterday, what’s going to happen tomorrow or when you leave the studio, even if it’s just for a moment.

And that’s comforting. Because if you really focus on the breath — the way the air feels as it gets pulled in through your nose and fills up your lungs, and the way it feels as it leaves the body, taking with it everything you don’t need — you are reminded you’re alive. And that’s a very good thing.

My thoughts come back, of course. But rather than fight them, I merely observe them. I don’t try to force them out. I watch and let them pass by while I breathe.

Sometimes it takes a lot of breathing.

When the mind is loud and crowded, it can be a terrible place to be. But if we learn to quiet it, and empty from it all unnecessary thoughts, our sense of calm can be reclaimed.

Inhale… and exhale.

And practice.

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Get It Checked Out. You'll Feel Better.

When I was little, I was a bit of a hypochondriac. This was in part due to the fact that my parents allowed me to buy a book called The World’s Deadliest Animals, or something to that effect.

This book featured not only illustrations of some of the scariest animals on Earth, but also detailed explanations of the symptoms one would experience during a fatal encounter.

I was particularly terrified of the funnel-web spider, whose bite first causes aches and pains, and you start to sweat. Then, according to my research, you turn blue and froth at the mouth before dying a mere two hours later.

This information was, of course, very damaging to my childhood psyche, as I assumed any ache or pain was the beginning of the end.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to outgrow my propensity for self-diagnosis, although it does manage to creep up from time to time.

Most recently, I had a dime-sized bump under my left arm that had suddenly become irritated and sore after weeks without complaint.

It took me a week to call my doctor and have him take a look at it, but the effect it had on me during that time was severely debilitating. With each day it didn’t go away on its own, my imagination would cause me to grow more and more paranoid. Sometimes I’d be able to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, but the voice in the back of my head would always come back sooner or later, asking what if it is a big deal?! My mood eventually became completely depressed. The worry was always there, like a splinter in my mind. Any time I found myself in a good mood, it would sneak up and dash it from me.

A week later, my doctor told me it was an infected hair follicle and could likely be treated with antibiotics. All that worrying for nothing.

The point is, sometimes our imaginations get the best of us, which disrupts our inner peace. Sometimes, it’s best to trust an expert, rather than allow your mind to conjure up any number of worst case scenarios.

If there’s an easy solution to your worry, don’t put it off. Make the call. Then, it’ll be over, and you’ll have peace of mind.

Life is too short to live in fear.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

It's Summertime

Life feels easier in the summertime.

It’s more fun to get out of bed when the sun is shining and the air is warm.

Driving to work doesn’t feel as dreadful on a beautiful day.

We can step outside without having to worry about protecting ourselves from cold temperatures and inclement weather.

No matter what’s going on in my head or in my life, it all seems so inconsequential under an infinite blue sky.

When it’s summertime, the whole world just seems more friendly.

It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.
American Beauty

Truer words have not been spoken.

I hope this Memorial Day weekend finds you filled with inner peace.

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Inbox Terrors: How to Stop Being Scared of Email

Right now, I’m carrying around a considerable amount of anxiety because of email.

Which is ridiculous.

You see, I’m waiting for three emails of relative importance. One is feedback on an article I wrote. Another is about guesting on a reputable podcast (not mine). And the third is about possibly meeting up to play music with some people I’ve never met before.


Of course, being scared of email is completely irrational, but the fear is real nonetheless. It’s a fear of the unknown. I have no idea and even less control over what the other person might say.

“This is literally the worst thing you’ve ever written.”

“You’re way too dumb to be on this podcast.”

“You suck at playing bass, even though I’ve never heard or seen you play, but I’m sure that’s what I’ll say once I do. How’s tomorrow at 8?”

The likelihood of any of these responses actually happening is slim to none.


No, they won’t.

But suppose they did. What would happen?


I’m sitting here at my desk, as I do, reading and/or writing and/or perusing the interwebs, when suddenly my email goes ding! [Seriously, it just did. Holy crap.]

I open my email, click the unread message, and BOOM — it literally leaps off the screen and starts screaming at me like I’m the worst person in the world.

Or so it seems.

But when I’m done reading it, what has actually happened?


I’m still sitting here at my desk. The sun is still shining. Everything is as it was moments before.

I’m not dead.

If an alien were to look down from space into my house and see me sitting here, there would be no discernible difference between what it saw before the email and what it saw after the email.

Email can’t hurt you. People can’t eat you.

And if the email does contain bad news, well, I’ll survive. I’ll work through it. What I won’t do is let it paralyze or defeat me. The worst part about reading a scary email is reading it; it’s probably not as bad as you thought, and if it is, it only gets better from there.

So be brave. Don’t fear the ding!

Because there are far more important things to be scared of than email.

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Too Many Inputs

Mark Sisson:

Namely, smartphones, social media, and the Internet in general has changed the way we experience the world. For many, it has replaced engagement with the real physical world almost entirely.

Brett Kelly, on reading intentionally:

It may sound narcissistic, but I feel a lot better laying my head down at night knowing that I spent 30–45 random minutes reading books and articles that I actually want to read instead of frustratedly skimming news that usually doesn’t interest me.

Paul Miller quit the Internet for a year:

I feel like I’ve only examined the internet up close. It’s been personal and pervasive in my life for over a decade, and I spend on average 12+ hours a day directly at an internet-connected terminal (laptop, iPad, Xbox), not to mention all the ambient internet my smartphone keeps me aware of.

Stephen Hackett:

Miller’s actions are probably over the top. That said, I do think many of us who are neck-deep in the Internet daily could use a healthy dose of self-control.

Richard J. Anderson:

How much of what I’m consuming in content each day is signal, and how much is noise? […]

Every click brings us a little shot of pure, full-strength dopamine. Don’t tell me you don’t get just the tiniest little thrill when you open your Twitter client, refresh your RSS feeds, or refresh your Instagram feed.

I love being a nerd, having a website, recording podcasts, tumbling, tweeting, reading RSS and Instapaper, and on occasion, even emailing.

I quit Facebook because it was a timesuck, and I need all the time I can get. It’s the same reason I don’t keep any games on my iPhone.

But sometimes, it’s still too much. I’ve felt digitally overwhelmed lately.

I had a nonstop weekend last week. Work was consuming, people were graduating, mothers were celebrating, family was remembering. And so my online life fell by the wayside.

Other than increasing unread counts, there were no consequences for my being off the grid. But I felt a certain heaviness every time I did take a moment to check my phone. I felt removed from the online world.

Distraction is ubiquitous. It’s so easy to wake up in the morning, reach for the iPhone on your nightstand, and spend half an hour reading and consuming.

I haven’t picked up my Kindle in months, even though I love it, and I think it’s because I’m already reading all day. Reading books takes focus and concentration. It’s intellectual work, and I often don’t have the strength for it at the end of the day. I’d rather just thumb through more tweets and RSS feeds.

Combatting information overload is an iterative process.

I’m not about to quit the Internet completely; I find too much value in it, and it’s helped me discover things I love very much. It’s helped introduce me to this online world of writers and creators, a community that I aspire to be a part of.

Ultimately, I agree with Rich. The simple answer is mindfulness: being aware of all of our inputs and what they contribute to our lives.

RSS is the biggest culprit for me. I’m currently subscribed to 98 RSS feeds, some of which are high volume, many of which are not. I’ve made a conscious effort to remove any feeds I deem extraneous. If I find I’m constantly swiping “read” on a majority of a feed’s posts, it’s time to unsubscribe.

I’m considering moving to a Patrick Rhone-esque RSS system in the future, but for now I’m going to continue to keep a close, mindful eye on my inputs, and maintain the self-control to not check them every five minutes.

Sometimes, you need to shut down.

The solution to too many inputs is simple. Evaluate each input as follows:

  1. Be mindful of the input’s value.
  2. When the input is no longer valuable, remove it. (This requires letting go of the fear of missing out on what the input provides.)
  3. Repeat.

Eliminate the unnecessary. Inner peace 101.

Have an extraordinary weekend, everyone.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Superficial, The Metaphysical, and Why It's OK Not to Be Brilliant All the Time

A Creative Trough

My creative output tends to fluctuate from week to week. Some weeks I have a long list of ideas I want to write about, while other weeks I find writing to be absurdly difficult. Sometimes it's a lack of ideas, and sometimes it's a lack of motivation.

I've been in a bit of a holding pattern with my thesis this week as I wait for feedback on my new and improved (thirty-page!) introduction and start planning the final steps toward completion. This, coupled with the fact that the weather has been miraculous lately, has distracted me from the astounding productivity I saw at the beginning of the month.

I'm still getting up early and doing yoga every morning, but I feel like I've been accomplishing less. Sure, my thesis is on hold, but I could be using the spare time to push the site forward. Instead, I've been doing a lot of reading, exercising, and sitting outside.

I only have excuses for my lack of "real" productivity over the past week, but I also think there's a certain degree of value to this downtime.

The Superficial vs. The Metaphysical

I tackle a variety of topics on this site, and I tend to view each topic as falling into one of two categories. Some of them are "superficial", and some of them are "metaphysical". The superficial pieces — about apps, or shaving, or music, for example — tend to be more light-hearted, fun, and "easier" to write. The metaphysical pieces — about the beauty of being wrong, or letting go of Bruce Springsteen, or creativity — tend to be more serious, challenging, and subsequently more difficult and rewarding to write.

I feel most accomplished as a writer when I feel like I've created something out of nothing. Not just anything, but something of substance. I like feeling that I've reached with my writing, as opposed to, "Hey, here's my new favorite app you should check out." At times, this superficial posting feels a bit like a cop-out.

But, we are human, after all. Some days you don't have a brilliant idea. Some days you don't have the strength to ponder the depths of human existence. And I think that's OK.

Lighten Up

Life is too short to be serious all the time. Some writers may be able to push the envelope every single day, but I don't feel that would be the most honest representation of myself. Some days I feel like reading about eastern philosophy for three hours, and other days I feel like playing old video games from 1997. It's all fun. It's all good. It's all worthwhile.

The value of deep thinking and writing intense, thoughtful pieces is self-explanatory. We push our minds beyond their self-imposed limits to reach new levels of contemplation, understanding, and growth.

What's less obvious is the value of the so-called mindless activities, as well as the importance of rest.

The fluctuations in our creative output — the cresting waves of productivity and the lowly troughs of writer's block — are a natural part of our humanity. It's hard to be brilliant and earth-shattering every single day, just as it's hard to be relentlessly productive every day between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM.

Don't allow yourself to feel guilty about what you're excited about today.

It might be philosophy, or it might be video games. If it's video games, so what? There's value in shutting your brain down for a while. It's a form of rest, and the rest is what gives you the strength to do the hard work.

If a saxophonist never put any rests in his music, he would just keep playing the same note over and over until he passed out due to a lack of oxygen. It's the rests — the spaces between the notes — that give the notes their own unique life.

Writing is the same way. If I tried to write a challenging, deep piece every day, I would probably burn out very quickly. I might even stop writing the site for a while. By writing a mix of the fun and the thought-provoking, the superficial and the metaphysical, I keep myself sane and steady. And it's all part of the package. Everything I write about here is Me. I try to keep a general focus, but at the same time, you'll never find an article here about something I don't find interesting or consider valuable.

And look at that. Here I am, 900 words later, after wondering all weekend what I was going to write about for Monday. I thought to myself, "Maybe I'll try to write up some little piece about the value of doing nothing, and then I'll figure out something better for Tuesday." But what started out as a tiny, superficial idea turned into a piece I kind of like. Funny how writing works like that.

In short, don't be afraid to do "nothing" once in a while. Let your mind turn off or wander aimlessly. Sometimes, just sitting quietly and thinking is doing quite a lot. If you sit and think for long enough, eventually you'll arrive at a place of drive and inspiration, where you want to get up and build something amazing.

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The Beauty of Being Wrong

The fact that I’m doing yoga at 7 AM every morning still blows my mind.

It’s been two weeks since I became an early riser, and I love it just as much as I did on day one. The quiet solitude of the morning, the sense of having so much more time, the increased exposure to sunlight… All so wonderful.

But, for all its awesomeness, this change has created something of a splinter in the back of my mind.

The Stubborn Night Owl

You see, for years I was convinced of my own superiority as a night owl. It appealed to my introverted nature, and I liked the rebelliousness of staying up and sleeping late. I associated early rising with convention. Getting up at 8 AM, driving to a cubicle, sitting there all day, and then driving home exhausted and horrified at having to do it all over again tomorrow — it seemed like no way I’d ever want to live. If it works for you great, but I knew it wasn’t for me.

It still isn’t, at least when it comes to the sitting-in-a-cubicle-all day part. But fortunately, I’ve avoided — by both choice and design — that sort of existence.

Instead, I get up with the sun, practice yoga, make tea, read, and then write and make things. It’s a routine with which I’ve quickly become obsessed.

What’s given me pause, though, is the fact that I was so wrong about night owlism. Actually, no; I wasn’t wrong about night owlism so much as I was wrong about being an early riser.

I still think being a night owl is great, and people who prefer that lifestyle should continue to live it as long as it helps them grow and do what they want to do.

Unfortunately, staying up late and sleeping in every morning was paralyzing me. My creativity and productivity stagnated. I was stuck in an incredibly depressing rut, and the only way out was to make a drastic life change: to start getting up early.

I see now just how wonderful being an early riser can be. It’s not painful at all — provided you’re getting your required amount of sleep — and it opens up a whole new world you may have forgotten existed. I certainly did. It truly is life-changing.

Of course, one could easily reverse my story and get the same benefits. Someone who is forced to rise early every morning and go to a job they hate and come home exhausted could, in theory, quit, start their own business, and sleep until mid-morning before doing the work they love all day and late into the night.

It works both ways, and I make no claims that one is better than the other. The best one is the one that works for you.

But, back to my splinter.

What Do I Know?

The feeling I’m experiencing now is that I was wrong.

Wrong in the sense of thinking one way was better than the other, and wrong in thinking I could never become an early riser. Ever. I never wanted to, never thought it would be good for me, never even entertained the idea.

I was a proud night owl. Stubbornly proud.

And yet, here I am.

And so I find myself thinking, “If I was wrong about that, I might be wrong about other things too. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Maybe minimalism isn’t healthy?

Maybe politics are important?

Maybe sports do have value?

Maybe being an introvert isn’t better?

These are scary thoughts, because my identity is ingrained in these possibly incorrect notions. If I’m wrong about them, then part of my identity is lost and/or needs to be rebuilt.

Being wrong is scary.

But, like anything, the solution lies in perspective.

First off, people grow and change. This is for the better. I might be telling my kids someday, when they’re groaning and hiding under the covers at 10 o’clock in the morning, how I used to love to sleep in when I was younger, until it stopped working for me. And that’s the thing:

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. If it’s not, change it.

Minimalism works for me. Being apathetic about sports works for me. These things, at the very least, do me no harm.

I thought being a night owl was working for me, and for a long time, it was. But, then it stopped. When my life changed — when theses and job hunts and apartments and writing and responsibilities became the focus — I needed to change too. Staying up late was not helping me write my thesis or become any more of an adult. I was stuck. I wasn’t growing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of staying up late. But, I was wrong to think I could keep doing it and still get to where I wanted to be. I couldn’t. So, I had to reevaluate and change my habits.

Not a Thing

There’s a deeper aspect to being wrong as well, one that I wrote about long ago. It’s the know-nothing principle.

The know-nothing principle is a solution to the fear of being wrong. The fear of being wrong grows out of being so attached to your ideas that you become unreceptive to new information, which might contradict or disprove your ideas.

“I am a night owl, and it works for me” was my idea. I knew night owlism was better. I shunned the notion of early rising out of fear that it might in fact be superior to my idea. I did not assume the know-nothing principle when it came to sleep schedules. As such, I was unable to see the benefits of an idea different from my own, and in turn it took me a long time to realize that my stubborn adherence to my own idea was causing me to stagnate.

It was only when I stopped being closed off, when I became open to the idea of early rising that I was able to adopt it and change for the better.

By being open to alternative ideas, by thinking of them not as wrong, but merely as different, and by being willing to try them, we free ourselves from being prisoners of our own ways of thinking.

And so, this experience of being “wrong” does not fill me with the fear that I might be wrong about everything. Rather, being wrong is humbling. It’s a reminder that I know nothing. I had forgotten that, and so I had become attached to my ideas. And of course, I was hurt when life reminded me that my idea wasn’t the only way.

The past two weeks have reminded me of the importance of an open mind. An open mind frees you from the fear of being wrong. You don’t have to cling to one idea or another, and you don’t have to jump to defend it from anyone who thinks differently than you.

As Socrates said:

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.

I thought I knew something about sleep schedules. But, it turns out I don’t know the first thing about them. And that makes me smile.

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A Prisoner of the Past

Crave translates into slave
John Roderick

When we lose something wonderful, we experience a natural desire to get that thing back — to get back to the way things were.

This desire arises out of attachment to that thing. When we lose something wonderful, we lose a part of ourselves. Part of our identity was defined by that thing, and so part of our identity must be rebuilt.

Rebuilding can be exceptionally difficult and painful, especially when we convince ourselves that the only way to rebuild is to recover the thing that was lost.

Unfortunately, the loss of the thing is often permanent, which only augments our desire to recover it. The permanence of the loss is directly proportional to our desire to get the thing back. When someone dies, we really wish we could see them again. When someone goes away for a weekend, it’s not a big deal because we know they’ll be back in no time.

The more we allow ourselves to believe that recovering the lost thing is possible, the longer it takes to rebuild, and the longer it takes to be whole again.

Too often, getting back to the thing is impossible. When that is the case, the only way to rebuild is to release our attachment to the thing. Cherish the thing, certainly, but do not try to get back to it. That is, do not allow your happiness and your identity to be dependent on the recovery of a thing that is lost forever. Preserve the memory of the thing, but do not allow yourself to become enslaved by the notion that you can go back to the way things were.

We cannot move forward if we insist on remaining a prisoner of the past. We cannot rebuild by rewinding, only by looking — and moving — ahead.

The best way out is always through.
Robert Frost

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The Essential Lesson About Expectations

Expectation is the root of all heartache.
William Shakespeare

My dad has always taught me the importance of managing expectations. Allowing them to get out of control almost guarantees disappointment, while keeping them low increases the chances of being pleasantly surprised.

But what exactly is an expectation?

An expectation is an attachment to an outcome.

Let’s say you get a tip from a friend about a job he or she thinks you would be perfect for. They tell you all about it and encourage you to apply. They’ll put in a good word for you. It sounds great. The pay would be better. It would be a field you’re interested in. You could use the money to get out of your crappy apartment and pay down some of your student loans. Things would get better. All in all, it sounds like a big upgrade. It’s going to be awesome.

Until you don’t get the job.

This thought process is indicative of out-of-control expectations. When you allow yourself to get overly excited about something that is not yet a sure thing, your brain begins to act as if that thing is already true. When the thing doesn’t come true, it can be devastating.

Attachments to outcomes are no less dangerous than attachments to things. Suppose you get a brand new toy, whatever that means for you. A new car, gadget, instrument, doesn’t matter. You love that thing, and it brings you joy. You don’t want to imagine life without that thing. So if — and when — it breaks, you experience pain and loss.

The same can be said of attachments to people. Boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives are wonderful things, but when their bodies are no longer there — either by choice or by death — the pain can be excruciating.

This pain happens because we have attached a part of ourselves to that thing or person. Our identity is in part defined by our relationship to it, him, or her.

“I am the owner of that car.”

“I am John’s girlfriend.”

“I am Jane’s husband.”

When the car or John or Jane are no longer there, that part of our identity disappears with them, and that void hurts. A lot.

Obviously we can’t force ourselves to stop enjoying things or loving people, so the solution lies in establishing one’s identity independent of external entities.

“With or without this thing/person, I am still me.”

When your sense of identity is unwavering, you don’t feel disappointment when you don’t get the job. Rather, you feel content in knowing that you were OK before the job, and you will be OK without the job.

Of course we feel sadness over the loss of loved ones, whatever the reason. Relationships are an essential fiber of our humanity, and losing them hurts like hell. But perspective and identity must be maintained. In the case of the girlfriend: you were OK before her, and you will be OK after her — even if you don’t think you can be.

When someone dies, our pain is corporeal. We ache over being unable to see the person, or hear their voice, or feel their arms around us. But we may take comfort in knowing that they’re still there, even though their body isn’t.

In all of these cases — the lost job, the broken object, the missing person — we were expecting the thing to be there. When it isn’t, our expectations are not met, and we hurt.

We must learn to let go of our expectations of outcomes, things, and people. In doing so, we free ourselves from our attachment to them. This is not to say we should go through life as emotionless robots, but rather that we must know who we are — with and without these things. Our identities must not depend on the presence or ownership of external entities.

We must truly know ourselves so that we may live independently of the things over which we have no control.

Self-control, then, is the key. You have true control over almost nothing and no one in this world. The only thing you can control is your mind and how it deals with what happens to you. Remove expectations, and you remove the chains of attachment.

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About the Tree in Your Face

Sometimes, you have to move on to the next thing to fully understand the last thing.

It’s not until you get to college that you realize how silly high school was.

It’s not until you get to graduate school that you realize how good college life was.

It’s not until you become an adult that you realize how easy it was being a student.

Of course, it wasn’t silly or easy back then. At the time, my life did depend on that science project. And that term paper. And that final exam. Even now, it seems like my life depends on my thesis. But in a year, when I’m worried about something entirely different, I’ll look back and wish the biggest thing on my mind was a fifty-page paper about Middle English lyric poetry.

They call it “missing the forest for the trees”. If there’s a huge tree right in front of you, you can’t see past it. You can’t see all of the other trees around and beyond it. You have to take a step back to see the forest, to see the big picture. Sometimes you have to take several steps.

It’s hard to see something for what it truly is when your nose is pressed against it.

But, a forest is easily identified from 10,000 feet.

When faced with a tree, always ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now?”

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My Student Loans Are Hilarious

I sat down with my mom the other night to discuss my student loans. Before that conversation, I knew I had students loans, but I didn't know exactly how many student loans we were talking about, and how much money those loans entailed.

I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I owe the government an absurd amount of money for my little ol' bachelor's degree. A degree that — so far — has yielded me little in the way of riches.

I don't regret my undergraduate education — not for one second. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Still, being faced with a huge amount of debt isn't exactly great news.

But, it does make me laugh.

That's right. I laugh in the face of my (let's call it) $50,000 debt.

At this point in my life, I can't even imagine what $50,000 looks like. It's not even a real number. It's not like I went to the bank and they gave me a truckload of cash, which I brought to college and handed over to the Admissions Office. I've never even seen $1,000 in real life, let alone the $50,000 for which I'm supposedly responsible. They're fifty thousand imaginary dollars, which floated invisibly through the air, landed safely... somewhere, and persuaded someone to give me an education.

It's really quite silly.

In some ways, the fact that I've never come in physical contact with these fifty thousand dollars detaches me from the emotional burden of paying them back.

Imagine you were carrying a $100 bill around in your wallet, and when you went to reach for it, the money was gone. That experience would hurt because you were physically attached to the money. You used to be able to see it, feel it, and you knew it was there. And now it's gone. You feel bad about it because you miss that hundred dollar bill! You miss it a lot.

But how can you miss something that was never physically there to begin with? I feel no sense of ownership over these fifty thousand dollars. Clearly, they belong to someone else, and I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow them for several years. I don't feel the sense of loss that I would feel if someone took $100 out of my pocket.

Now, you could argue that paying for something you can't see hurts. You can rationalize spending $20 on a DVD because, when you hand the clerk a twenty-dollar bill, they hand you a movie in exchange. That's fair.

But in reality, paying for college is no different. You're paying for an experience. It's like coughing up $50 for a concert ticket. You're not really taking anything home with you, but you are getting a whole lot of memories, and you're coming out a different person on the other side.

While $50,00 is an obscene and unfathomable amount of money, I'm not sure I can — nor would I want to — put a price on my college experience. Sure, you can put a price on classes, housing, and meal plans, but you can't put a price on the experience.

My student debt isn't going anywhere. All I can do is keep it in perspective. It'll all get paid off eventually. What's the worst that could happen? No one has ever been executed for having student loans.

Do I owe the government more money than I ever thought possible? Yes.

Is it ridiculous? Yes.

Can I change it? Not really.

So is it worth getting worked up over? No.

Are most people in the same situation? Yes.

Am I going to pay it off little by little, like everyone else? Yup.

When I'm told I have to pay back fifty thousand imaginary dollars because someone somewhere decided that's how much an education costs, I just shrug and say, "Well, that's unfortunate, but alright."

I'm thousands of dollars in debt; all I can do is laugh about it.

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You're Not Going to Die

The problem with being really close to finishing your thesis is that it comes with many increasingly persistent questions:

“What are you going to do now?”

“What jobs have you applied to?”

“Are you aware of how many thousands of dollars in student debt you’re responsible for?”

“How are you going to afford rent?”

“Do you have a plan?”

All of which translate to:

When are you going to hurry up and be the adult the world expects you to be?

Seven years ago, when I declared English as my major, I saw these questions off in the distance, prowling the horizon. I’ll be the first to admit I still don’t know the answers to them. And while that’s a serious cause for concern for what seems like pretty much everyone in my life, it is in the face of these questions that I find myself decidedly unafraid.

And why shouldn’t I be?

I’ve already spent enough time wallowing in self-pity, fear, and doubt over who I am and what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. I’ve already panicked over my student loans. I’ve already looked at how expensive apartments are. I’ve already seen how few jobs there are, and even fewer that appeal to me. I’ve already imagined life on my own, out there in the dark, scary real world.

And I’ve made peace with all of it.

This is not to say I do not recognize the necessity of income, housing, and food. I can’t live without these things. I don’t even need my two English degrees to tell me that.

I recognize that I cannot sit passively by and expect to be handed a job and an apartment. I recognize that I will need to work hard to achieve these things, and that I am solely responsible for them.

But why make myself sick over it?

I’m not going to die.

There are people far dumber than me (and you) who are doing just fine.

These are the facts.

I do not presume the transition to adulthood will be an easy one. Indeed, it hasn’t been so far. But, I believe the best way to make that transition is with the proper perspective — one that enables you to walk into the unknown calm, collected, and confident.

Even if you have no idea what you want to do…

No matter how many thousands of dollars you owe the government…

Even if you’re not sure who you are…

You’re not going to die.

You will answer these questions in due time.

Always ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that could happen? Chances are it’s not that bad.

I’m sure many will mistake my equanimity for naiveté, laziness, and apathy. This is fine. Most people are more concerned with the lives of others than with their own.

But in truth, beneath my foolish calm is a sense of great excitement. Because I can’t wait to be on my own. To come home to my own apartment. To cook my own food. To start my own career, and to find out what that ends up being. It’s not a question of “Are these things going to happen?” Of course they are; it’s a matter of when.

I’m excited to start my own life. In thirty years, I’ll be telling my kids, “I know it’s scary. But, what’s the worst that could happen? You’re not going to die.”

That’s going to be a good day.

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