Everyday thoughts: Life changing sentences#1

I’ve decided to launch another “series of posts” besides the “A Project called:” ones. The reason is simply that I have a whole lot of general thoughts and ideas to write on. However, they don’t quite fit in my project based concept but I feel that they’re worth sharing and are supporting the overall “direction” I want to go in with this site. These pieces will run under the name of “Everyday thoughts:” and this one is the pilot. Enjoy.

I like analyzing things. My own personality and behaviour, for example, are very often in the focal point of these sessions. It’s probably because of my enormous curiosity. I constantly try to understand why and how I’ve become the guy I’m today.

Obviously, the way my parents raised me had a great impact on that. I quite often discover sentences that I would hear a zillion times and stuck with me for decades and influenced how I think today. And I need to tell you that I’m amused again and again about the power of words.

Of course, if you think about it more carefully, it’s not surprising that as a kid you give credit to what you hear from your parents. That’s a very natural way of learning. However, it might not be obvious at first glance, how these usually well-intended instructions or question can engrave in your mind and how they bias your perception of reality even a few decades later. These sentences and their consequences are the topic of the following lines.

I’ve no doubt that the top influencer among them were the ‘What will …. think if (s)he hears/sees you….? Fill in the gaps. Examples: the guy – crying; the woman – running; the neighbour – speaking loud. I could give you examples with no end but I think you get the idea. In fact, you might remember similar situations from your own childhood.

And I need to tell you that it has engraved itself in my brain. It has become one of my most basic thinking patterns. I always ask this question from myself before I do anything as well as when I’m doing it. It has become second nature. I believe I don’t need to explain how difficult life can be sometimes if you think like this.

Another parental statement, which effects I’m feeling nowadays more than ever before, is the ‘Study my son, in order to have a good job.’. I don’t question the good intention behind it. Not even for a minute. But recently, I’ve been thinking a lot whether or not it was a good decision  to become an engineer. It’s not that I don’t like the “core” of it, because I do. But given that I’m not really able to sit more than 30 minutes, it might not have been the best idea to choose a profession where I need to spend most of my time in an office. A sporting career might have been a better choice, and given the fact that I used to be a competitive gymnast as a kid, I could have chosen that.

I’ve written all this because I believe that if I understand the origin of my problems more deeply, I’m able to find a much better solution to tackle them than I would otherwise. Notice, that there’s a big difference between this approach and  between dwelling on the past. I know this whole post may look like as the latter. But it’s not that. Even though, dwelling on the past was something I used to do a lot. I used to be the Queen of my own in-head-written drama. Then, at one point I was able to realize somehow, how much damage I was doing to myself with this way of thinking, I was able to quit it. It took a few months of concentrated and dedicated work, but it was well worth the time and energy invested in it.

Before I finish this piece, I’d also like to clarify that I didn’t write all these to hurt or judge my parents in any way. Actually, I’m very thankful for them for everything they’ve done for me. I know that I’ve always been the number one person in their lives and they’ve never failed to put my interests before their owns, for which I can’t be grateful enough for the rest of my life.

Taking a look back on my lines, it seems once again very hard to believe that a few simple sentences, repeated with adequate frequency, could have such a big impact on my life. But that’s exactly the case. However,  I strongly believe that this realization is also very useful and I learnt a lot on the way exploring it.

Well, that’s for today, however, I intend to continue this post since I have another pack of ‘those sentences’ but I think if I were to write them now, this piece would become too much to read in one go. If you’ve come this far, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back later to see the next one and, in the meantime, feel free to place your comment. Thank you. Cheers.

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A project called: Meditation

My second formal project was establishing a meditation practice into my life. (You can read about my first project here. I’d also suggest you read the About section and this piece here in order to get a general idea about this blog.) This post is going to tell you the story why and how I achieved it. And I think it’s also kind of a review on this amazing “tool” with the eyes of a newbie.

Okay. Let’s start. (:

Not a very long time ago, if I heard the word ‘meditation’, I would think of orange dressed shaolin monks, sitting in lotus posture, eyes closed, trying to feel the Chi (whatever it means). And of course, they would occasionally levitate. It’s  common sense in Western cultures that this is the way you do this, right? Not to mention that widely accepted view that it’s a complete waste of time and you must be a Buddhist (but at least nuts) in order to practice this nonsense.

Then, at the end of the last year I had a pretty rough period in my life (In case you’re interested, check here.) I was very stressed out and was on the look for something that could help me tackling it. Once, I was browsing online for some guided relaxations and somehow I came across an MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) page. I didn’t really know the difference between relaxation and meditation at the time, so I gave it a try.

Then, I would read more and more about the topic. I can’t really express how surprised I was about the effects of meditation on the brain. I started to have the feeling that this was the light at the end of the tunnel. So I stuck with it and practiced day after day. I tried all kinds of guided meditation practices, such as sitting meditation with breath awareness, loving kindness, body scan and so on. Their length would differ between 8-15 minutes.

After 2 or 3 weeks of daily practice I felt definitely more relaxed and calm. (I didn’t know for sure whether or not it was the effect of meditation only, but I was convinced enough to keep practicing.)

As a next step, I undertook a free 8 week MBSR course. With the help of this course, I’ve stretched my daily meditation practice to 25-30 minutes and I’ve learnt a lot more about mindfulness. (And I’ve become even more curious about it.)

Today, I know that my “levitating monk” idea on meditation couldn’t really be further from truth. I understand now that meditation, putting it very simply, is a way to improve concentration and mental clarity and it can be practiced by anyone. Actually, I would strongly suggest you try it, too.

Now, I’ve been practicing for a little bit more than 3 months (6 days a week in average), and I don’t have any more doubts about its perks. Not only in tackling stress but getting (re)connected with yourself and the present moment. The very moment you live in.

“Meditation can reintroduce you to the part that’s missing.”  Russell Simmons

I know of course, that I’ve just started this journey and I’ve a lot more to explore about it, so I keep going. I’m pretty sure that this practice provides a very good base for achieving mental health and a happier life in general. I’ll post updates on my “progress” later. In the meantime I would really like to hear about your insights and, possibly,  personal experiences on meditation.

So, that was brief story of me establishing a daily meditation practice. Hope you find it interesting. Thanks for reading and check back later. Cheers.

A project called: Positive self-talk and thinking

I’m convinced that the first and most important step when you seek a change is developing positive self-talk and thinking. I know very well from my past experiences, as I mentioned in my previous post, that negative self-talk was one of the main reasons of failure when I tried integrating a habit. This post is going to tell you more about how I started working on this issue of mine, and how it has become the first formal project and “the foundation” of A project called life.

If you’re an optimistic and positive-in-general person, you might not even understand the relevance of this. On the other hand, if you are like me, you must know how hard it is to fight that inner voice that constantly tells you that you are going to fail no matter what you try. It always drags you down. It makes you question yourself and pulls you back all the time. It always reassures you that you won’t make it. With this “passenger on board”, you can’t win a single fight because you had already lost before you even started. He’ll be victorious again, and again, and again… Therefore, going into a battle with this knowledge seems pointless. And believe me, it is.

“Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.” Zig Ziglar

The lucky thing is that once you have understood this, you have the power to tackle it. For me, it took several years to come to this realization, but I don’t mind, because it was a very powerful moment when I discovered it. A very liberating feeling.  A moment of pure joy.

Keeping in mind the abovementioned  discovery, there was no question about it, that if I really mean to drive my life into the direction I want to, this is the starting point. The home base. The bread and butter. So I came up with a solution.

The first step was actually the acknowledgment itself. Then, I needed to accept the fact that I have this issue with negative self-talk and thinking. And I think it was probably the key moment. Why? Well, think about it. Where are you if you don’t accept it? You are in denial. And, of course you can’t change something which you don’t even think exists. Not to mention that denial is a negative state of mind itself. I hope you see my logic here.

After this little mind-game, I developed a practical strategy. A very simple one, I might add. But a solution doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. It just needs to be working. End of story.

So the idea consists of two parts. Part one was collecting motivational quotes that attacked my negative thinking patterns. For example, I tend to dwell on past failures a lot, which is a very self-destructive habit. Since you can’t change the past and the only thing you get out of this is upsetting and stressing yourself out. For this I wrote down the following quote: “Do not live in the past. Let it go.” Another example is my doubtfulness and fear of failure. And a matching quote is: “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” And so on and so forth. I collected dozens of quotes like these two and I added them to an application on my phone that you could set up to display them a number of times during the day. Every time it beeped I read it. (Actually I’ve been doing this ever since, which is over two months now, since I started it somewhere in the first weeks of January, 2016.)

I began with the second part of the idea  about a month later than the first one. It was actually having mirror-conversations with myself. I scheduled two of these daily: one after I wake up in the morning and one before bedtime in the evening. I usually clarify my daily goals in the morning and I take stock of my day in the evening. Rules are that I’m not allowed to judge myself, and I always need to close these conversations with a positive thought, such as “I’m proud of you” or “Well done” or something similar.

Well, I need to tell you that first I was very skeptic whether or not it would work. But I gave it a try and I’m glad I did. It’s working wonders. Of course, I don’t claim that I don’t have negative thoughts anymore (which I think would be a very unrealistic expectation), but I’ve become a way more optimistic than I was before and it helped me a lot to move on with my project. So I’m definitely keeping this habit, and I’m very satisfied so far. (I might consider reducing the amount and frequency of the motivational sentences, though. It’s a bit too much sometimes, and occasionally, can be a little bit annoying.)

Okay, that was it for today. Thanks for reading and I would really like to “hear” your insights on the topic, as well as on the post itself.

I hope you check back later. Cheers.

The methodology of change

Today, I’m writing a short description of my life changing plans. I include all the dos and don’ts, the methodology and the underlying principles behind ”A project called life”.

Since this post is a continuation of my previous one, you should read that piece before you go on. I also suggest you check the About section, if you haven’t already. Thanks.

So, let’s see that after I realized my need to change, how I actually started working on it.

First, I collected all the activities I wanted to integrate into my daily life during the course of this year. I also wrote down a couple of my habits I wanted to get rid of. As a result, I got a pretty massive list, with about 20 items. I wanted to start running, doing crossfit, eating healthier, practicing meditation, beat procrastination, just to mention a few. I soon realized that I would need a systematic approach if I really wanted to see through those changes. I knew that from experience, since I had tried to make much smaller lifestyle changes with little or no success at all.

Therefore, I sat down and started thinking about those past experiences. I collected all the aspects I could think of that had caused the failures of my earlier endeavours. I gathered all the positive attributes, too. While doing all this, here is what I learned:

Main causes of failure:

Not enjoying the process

Negative self-talk

Losing motivation (never looking back how far I’ve come)

Simply forgetting about the ”habit”

Not knowing exactly what to do

Impatience (trying too hard, wanting to achieve sg. too fast)

Trying to integrate/change more habits at the same time

Comparing my results to that of others and feeling disappointed

Positive findings:

Being very persistent when having a clear plan and framework

I also realized that the habits I had tried to establish had three types. The first was something I really enjoyed doing. The second was something I didn’t particularly enjoy but I had hoped to get some good results/changes out of it. The last type was something I tried to integrate just to show off. I didn’t enjoy it at all and didn’t want any other result out of it than proving a point or trying to impress someone.

Then, I gradually came up with a solution: I would address all these problems in advance and make use of my perseverance. The idea in a nutshell looks like as follows.

First and foremost, I’ll decide which category the habit I want to change fits in. If it’s the first, I probably won’t have to fear that I won’t enjoy. That’s a good start. If it’s the second, then I’ll need to find an aspect I can enjoy while doing it, no matter how small that might be. That’ll help me to not look at it as a must but as something I like doing. If I can’t decide which one it is then I’ll handle it as if it was the second. Last but not least, I won’t ever again try to integrate something into my life that belongs to the third one. Pointless and a full waste of time.

Second step will be clearly defining the habit itself. Every aspect of it. By that I mean its frequency, time, duration etc. I’ll also define what I hope to achieve by it, which I think is key if I want to minimize the prospect of failure. I’ll name every habit like this: A project called: Fill in the blank.

Third, I’ll clarify in my head, how hard I feel this integration will be. I’ll grade it on a 1-5 scale, where 1 means very easy and 5 is very hard. I think this step (when done properly) is very useful because I’ll know how to prepare myself mentally.

I think it’s safe to assume that undertaking only one change at the time could be the best way to succeed. It seems logical that giving my undivided attention to a new habit-to-be increases my chances actually being able to integrate it into my daily life. However, at the beginning I might consider sometimes putting more than one habit into my schedule simultaneously. If so, their cumulative grade mustn’t exceed 7, while their number shouldn’t be more than 2. (In some cases 3 might be acceptable.) I hope that will work as a rule of thumb, but I keep in mind to revisit this strategy after a few weeks.

Each project will have two phases. I call the first phase integration, whereas the second’s name is refining. The first phase will last 30 days. (I’ve read and heard different ideas from 4-60 days about the time needed to effectively form a habit. I find 30 reasonable, that’s why I chose that.) I’m not yet sure about the duration of the refining phase, so that’s going to be an additional 30 days for now. That’s another point that needs to be checked on later.

The first phase -as you probably expect- will be basically about integrating the new habit into my schedule, while the second phase is more about making all the necessary small alterations to make the habit stick.

After every single time I perform the particular activity in question, I’ll assign 1-2 minutes to think for a moment I really liked about it or something that felt different (in a good way) than before. I make a note about this experience. If I cannot find anything, I’ll concentrate on the purpose why I’m doing it. I’ll repeat this on a weekly basis, too. I find this very important because I think it’ll be a great source of motivation when the initial momentum is lost.

Upon completing the integration phase, I’ll assess the first 30 days and I’ll decide whether I reached the expected results and want to keep the habit. If the answer is yes, I’ll collect all the small alterations I’ll need to make in the second phase.

Last but not least, when I’m done with the second phase, I double-check and reassess the whole experience.

Okay. Basically, that’s how I plan to make the changes happen. Thanks for reading,  I hope you enjoyed. I’d appreciate your insight.

Hope to see you soon. Bye.

Retrospection

This is my first-ever post, so I’m a little bit excited. Before you start reading, I suggest you to check the About section, if you haven’t already.

This piece of writing is going to be a very short retrospection on my past years. I’m writing about this because I think that most people can relate to it and I want to explain how and why I decided to undertake changes. Let’s start.

I have been working as an engineer in a small firm for 2.5 years. When I started working, my life changed for the better and for the worse at the same time. A nice paradox. On one hand, it was great to become financially secured and independent. You can buy stuff you want without anyone’s approval and that can be appealing for a while. On the other hand, I dropped lots of my good habits I used to have. I stopped doing all kinds of sporting activities due to stress and lack of time. (Well, it is not entirely true. In fact, oftentimes I just felt to tired and lazy to work out after work.) In 2015, my usual afternoon would be like this: watching series and movies (plenty of them), meeting my girlfriend and studying.

At the end of the year, several changes occurred. After a few months of vicious fighting, my relationship with my girlfriend ended. At the same time, I reached all my ”academic goals” that I had set for myself. (Finishing my MSc. programme, reaching advanced level in both English and German.) In addition, I had been struggling in my workplace for months because I disliked the projects I had been working on. To make matters even more complicated, I was rejected from a university where I wanted to continue my studies. Last but not least, I took on some additional projects to work on, which forced me to pull some all-nigthers. I was so overwhelmed that I hit rock bottom. It was just way too much to handle all at once. I was very frustrated and stressed out, without a future perspective. In very short, I felt that my life was a mess.

Then, one day I suddenly realized -I don’t exactly remember, how it happened- that this would be a very great opportunity to change my life for the better, since it was due for a long time. So I decided to take actions and that moment was my the first step in a year-long transition. A bit later I even came up with a name: ”A project called life.”

Well, that’s for today. In the next post I am going to write a more detailed introduction about the changes I’m about to do and about the method I’ll be using.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you check back later. Comments are appreciated.

Bye.