#1 Thing That Stops You From Achieving Your Life Goals & How To Fix It

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make when setting goals is to confuse emotions with goals.

They make lofty aims like, ‘I want to be happy,’ or ‘I want to be successful,’ without knowing that these aren’t really goals at all.

What we’re talking about here are emotions, or states. These can change all the time. You could be feeling happy one day, and miserable the next, it’s only natural that our moods are constantly changing.

So aiming to achieve an emotional state, and stay like that for the rest of your life, is only going to lead to frustration.

Emotions are only an indication of whether or not you’re going in the right direction towards where you want to be. In other words, they can only show you whether or not you’re doing the right thing, right now.

the key to happiness is redefining it

For example, if you want to ‘be happy’, and you find that you’re happiest spending time with your friends and family, then your happy state is telling you that that’s what you need to be doing. So you should aim to spend more time with the people you love.

If what makes you feel successful is doing something you enjoy and you’re good at, then if you hate your job, you’ve got to aim to find something else.

If freedom, or independence, or travelling, makes you happy, then you need to let go of the commitments and stuff that’s holding you back so that you can do it.

If you’re feeling unhappy or unsuccessful because you’re stressed out about money, all the work you have to do, or the drama that people around you bring into your life, then now you know where to begin to change that. Sorting these out would be your ‘goals’ for now.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that you want to be happy in life. However, until you realise that happiness itself is just an emotion that comes from the result of your actions, you’re not going to get any closer to it.

You have to define what ‘happiness’ means to you by breaking it down to actual actions that you can accomplish right now. Those actions are your goals, for now.

In summary, here are some action steps you can take today:

1. Think specifically about which emotions, or states, you would like to feel about what

For example, “I want to feel ____ about ____. For example, “I want to feel happy about my job.”

2. Find out what makes you feel that way

For example, “I feel happy about my job when I enjoy the hours I spend working.”

3. Do those things, or avoid the things that make you feel the opposite

For example, “I love working with people, so I should move to a more client facing role” or, “I hate working in an office, I’m going to find a job that’s more hands on.”

4. Keep going

Keep finding new things that make you feel better about that particular area of your life. For example, “Being really good at my job makes me feel successful. I’ll keep working on getting better at it,” and so on.

5. Move onto improving other areas of your life

Once you’ve picked an area to improve, keep it up. Then try the technique in another area, such as improving your relationships, finding a fulfilling hobby, or improving your health. The possibilities are endless.

It sounds so simple, but most people only get to the first step and then wonder why they’re not happy yet. What can you do to redefine your goals?

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Keeping a Reading Notebook

One of the most useful things I own is a separate notebook for jotting down things that I find interesting, useful, funny, fascinating, inspiring and many other things that I read in books, novels, or even textbooks.

I can’t count how many times I used to finish reading a book, and after a while completely forget about the plot, the characters, good lines, great metaphors, or if it was non-fictional the good tips and motivational quotes. Perhaps it was the writing itself, but I would guess it has more to do with the fact that there is no way my fragile brain can remember all of the stuff I read (can you imagine if it could?!).

A reading notebook is like a journal of what I’ve learnt, and sometimes I write my thoughts or personal review of particular books in it. It’s not very well organised, really it’s just scraps of notes all over the place, with barely indication of organising (except it is in reading order). But the point is, that it usually lasts about a year, so by the end of it, I can flip through it and reread all of the things that I had explored this year in books.

It’s almost like a snapshot of my year. I tend to choose books that suit my moods, feelings and curiosities at the time, and looking back on it is an amazing experience. Sometimes it only takes one line for it to remind me where I was at that time, who the people around me were and how I felt about what was going on back then.

It also gives me something tangible, something to hold that represents all of the hours I had devoted to reading this  year. It’s proof that the time didn’t go to waste.

As the year draws to a close, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to start a reading notebook for the year ahead.

What do you think? Do you keep a reading journal too?

Minimalist Meditations – it’s not about money

“If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy” – Proverb

The first thing many people associate minimalism with is saving money. They think that people become minimalists so that they can hoard money instead of things. They think minimalists live tight, boring lives of just working hard, not watching TV, not having fun and wearing overly plain clothes.

Yes, money has got something to do with it, but minimalism does not mean you are afraid to spend it.

On the contrary, minimalists can spend as much money as a non-minimalist, it just depends on what they choose to spend it on. A non-minimalist might buy brand-name clothing, eat in fancy restaurants and stay in posh beach-side resorts for vacations.

A minimalist might by clothing that is just as good, but just not care about fancy marked-up brands. Then they might spend money on cooking classes or on ingredients they can experiment with instead of eating out. And for vacations, they might stick to a small hotel and use the money to go further and discover new people and places.

Both of them will spend money. The difference between them is that one chooses material things whilst the other chooses experiences. I wonder if this what being a minimalist really means.

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” – Bo Derek

5 life Lessons learned from the earthquake in Japan

Many of you have probably heard about the earthquake that hit northern Japan last Friday March 11th, and the tsunami it caused and the current nuclear ‘situation’. Fortunately, the region of Kansai where I live is mostly unaffected, but much of the damage and devastation it caused is still ongoing.

A random accumulation of circumstances has lead me to be where I am now. You could call me unlucky that I happen to be in Japan, or you could call be lucky to have survived unscathed, but either way, assigning things that simply happen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is futile, what matters is what’s happening right now, not the labels that we’ve attached to it.

lessons from the quake

On foundations

When the very ground you stand on – something stable you think will always be there to hold you up – starts to shake and break  apart, you have no choice but to realize that nothing is permanent. If you can’t even rely on the ground you’ve always stood on to always be there, what can you rely on?

The fact that things are changing all the time is something to celebrate. Human beings have a superpower called adaptability. We can learn how to deal with changing situations, learn new things and have fun from new experiences. Our lives are short and the places we go and things we see and people we meet won’t be there forever, but that’s what makes life interesting.

On the media

If there’s one other thing I’ve discovered it’s the power of the media and what ramifications it can have if news reporters exaggerate and blow things out of proportion. I’ve suffered more stress from trying to reassure family members that I am quite alright than being worried about the earthquake or the radiation itself.

People are freaking and leaving areas of Japan where there is little or no danger of radiation because of how the news is being reported. Panic is being created which is making situations worse. Radiation is happening all the time, from our kitchen microwaves and food treatment, to our wireless routers and cell phones, to to medical scans and most ironically, airport security scans. Unfortunately, in the framework of a crisis things get completely blown out of proportion.

It’s impossible to police all news outlets, and even harder to ask people to look at evidence more objectively, which has lead to a worldwide misunderstanding of the issue. I’m not going to go into criticizing the media or human ignorance right now, but I just wanted to make clear that I have weighed up all of the facts and real evidence and have made an informed decision that it is completely unnecessary for me to quit university, abandon my travel plans and leave my host family just because of a few choice adjectives used for headlines.

On fear

I came to Japan fully aware that it is an earthquake prone country. If I was not okay with the fact that an earthquake can happen at any time, I would not have flown across the world to get here. Since I was largely unaffected by the earthquake in Sendai, my stance on this has not changed. In the world, huge earthquakes like this are relatively rare. In any case, an earthquake is always going to ‘might happen’ in Japan, but I shouldn’t let it control my life.

If I let this way of thinking take over, in that case, I would never go to the States in case I ‘got shot’ (thank you media) or to even leave my house in case I catch bird flu or mad cow disease or something. Everyday that we’re alive there’s a danger that something ‘might happen’ but we take that risk because not doing anything in fear that you could get hurt isn’t living, which is basically a slow death anyway.

On love

As much as people are panicking and making things worse, there’ s a lot to be said about the help people all over the world have given Japan in these hard times, whether it’s in the form of money or food/water/blankets or even their own time as volunteers.

There’s something about disasters such as this that makes people come together when they otherwise wouldn’t have. Even if they can’t give anything, they’re giving their thoughts, sympathies and well wishes, which is valuable too.

I’ve also been touched by readers who immediately contacted me to ask if I was okay as soon as they heard. I’m truly grateful to have such a caring bunch of readers like you guys, it means a lot to me.

On beauty

Over the past few months, this country has almost become my home. That’s why it’s quite upsetting to see the devastation that the tsunami has left behind. Not only is an entire part of Japan’s beautiful Tohoku area been wiped out, but so has potentially thousands of innocent people who didn’t stand a chance.

Japan is a country full of the kindest people I’ve ever known and some of the most beautiful places on Earth. I’m sure this country’s strength of unity will see it through this disaster.

I realize I talk about Japan a lot, so I’m just going to leave it here with a few postcards from my travels.

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What minimalism taught me about dying

The fear of death used to keep me up at night. I wondered what it would be like to live forever.

Imagine, the first thirty years of your life, you’re young and naïve. You make friends, go to college, and learn about the world.

In the next fifty years you get a job, you travel, you have a family. There are ups and downs, but you’re in love and people love you. You’re content.

Then things start to change. As you live on, your family passes away and you miss them. You try to start another, and they’re beautiful too, but they too shall pass and so on. You eventually give up starting a family, because what’s the point if the people you love keep dying?

You find some time to travel, but with daily distractions and so much time to do it, you think, ‘I’ll get around to it one day’. But there’s nothing pushing you. You learn and experience more, but eventually you get tired of people’s drama, wars on the news, you’ve seen it all before. You try many hobbies, but with all the time in the world, what was exciting at first eventually becomes boring.

If everybody is immortal, things are arguably worse. You’re okay for the first fifty, maybe one hundred, or even one thousand years, but eventually you start to get bored and you wonder if there is more to life than being stuck with the same people for eternity. Even if you do love them, they’ll be around forever, so you don’t see a point in spending all of your time with them. You don’t even bother recording birthdays or special moments because you’ve had, and will have, so many.

Think about this for a moment, and you’ll realise, there’s a danger with living forever—having unlimited time makes life tedious.

  • What would have bought you joy instead bores you after a while.
  • What you would have made time for gets put off indefinitely.
  • What would have been special to you, becomes so normal that you don’t notice.

Time, money, and effort are in almost limitless supply, so you don’t do much that matters to you, and not much matters anyway since it’ll either be around forever, or you’ll own/see/do the same things thousands of times.

Living forever is not all it’s cracked up to be.

the good news is that we don’t live forever

…which is our best chance to enjoy life. We can cherish it, for all it’s beauty and horrors because the time we get is all we’ll have.

Everything has to fit into 20-100 years (we have no idea how much) because there are no second chances and there’s nowhere to put anything off in the future.

So what has minimalism got to do with this? When time, money and effort are limited, living a minimalist lifestyle directs those resources to accomplish what you want in life, without wasting it on things that don’t matter.

Spending half your life working to pay off your bills? Wish you could travel but can’t find the time? Feeling too tired to do the things you’ve always wanted? Wish you could spend more time with your family?

Well then, how about downsizing your house, or not having a flashy car, or forgoing some new clothes this year? Spending less means having to work less. It means wasting less time.

These sacrifices may seem trivial for what you get in return—a happier life. But just look around you and you’ll see how many people spend their entire lifetimes collecting trivialities.

They spend their one precious life trying to obtain things that don’t really make them happy, and don’t matter in the end.

These people are living life like they’re immortal, like they have all the time in the world. The sad thing is, they don’t. Death can come at any time. You could be crossing the street when a drunk driver turns a corner, or you could ‘get a funny feeling in your chest’ literally any day. We are already dying. There is no time to waste.

Depressing? Death doesn’t mean that life is futile. Rather, it gives life meaning. Having a deadline (in the literal sense of the word) is the kick up the backside we need to focus on the things that matter. That, essentially, is what living a minimalist lifestyle means—to focus our precious resources (time, money, and effort) on the things that are worthwhile.

Minimalism has taught me—no, trained me—to make my life count. The reality is that we don’t live forever, but that’s okay. Life is much better for it.

Like this post? I am working on a book that will feature similar topics, please comment with feedback or anything you’d like to see in the book.

Book I’m reading right now: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

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Minimalize, Focus, Do Part II- Mastering Focus

I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest“. ~ Dalai Lama

Into the Eye of the Storm

A storm is coming. Thick, dark clouds are gathering in the distance, rolling closer and closer towards you. The echo of a deep rumbling shakes the ground beneath your feet. Lightening pierces the sky in great thin flashes. Suddenly there’s a giant clash and everything goes white.

You open your eyes.

The first thing you notice is not what is there but what isn’t. The chaos and uproar is gone and in it’s place there is a tranquil silence that almost seems to ring in your ears. You fill your lungs with the cool, thin air. It calms your thumping heart.

You are in the eye of the storm.

Everything you have done until now has lead you to this moment.

Being focussed is about transporting your mind and body to a place of serenity. There’s nothing to pull you away from what you’re about to do. For now, nothing beyond your bubble really exists. The past is behind you and the future hasn’t happened yet. The world is at your feet.

This moment is a fresh start, a new beginning, a clean slate.

Has there ever been one moment in your life when you’ve been completely, utterly focussed? If you have experienced it, then you might know the feeling of infinite joy that comes out of being able to perform your very best.

You feel awesome, inspired and unstoppable. 

If you haven’t had the chance to experience that kinds of momentum yet, you can try to bring the moment towards you using some focus mantras.

25 focus mantras for genius, creativity & greatness

  1. disconnect
  2. breathe deeply
  3. intensity is vital
  4. drop your expectations
  5. play and stay curious
  6. lose yourself and
  7. know who you really are
  8. be present
  9. embrace solitude
  10. make your own rules
  11. listen honestly
  12. savor the silence
  13. life is the journey
  14. love everything
  15. just feel
  16. let go of the past
  17. passion is key
  18. move with purpose
  19. reject fear
  20. strive ahead
  21. freedom is in your mind
  22. gratitude goes a long way
  23. make a difference
  24. dive deeply
  25. be human

It’s your chance to fill the pages of your life. Write your story. It is in these moments that you decide who you are and what you’re alive for.

Now go do what you are supposed to do… and give it everything you have.

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Simple Philosophies – Live to listen

It is far more impressive when others discover you good qualities without your help. 

~ Judith Martin

Every time you meet someone new for the first time, you have one chance to make a good impression. In the first few minutes, an image of who you are is already formed in your acquaintance’s mind.

Naturally, you want to show the best of yourself. Most people would want to talk about all of the things they’ve achieved, all of the wealth, possessions and qualifications they have, where they come from and who they are. As people, we love to talk about ourselves.

But, instead of worrying so much about what to say, how about just listening? After your initial introductions, why not try asking questions and listening to what your new friend has to say?

Listening to others means devoting a little of your time to someone else’s story. Not surprisingly, people who listen a lot are thought of as better conversationalists than those that talk too much. People feel more engaged in a conversation if they feel that what they are saying is being appreciated.

They say that nobody knows an enlightened person. That’s probably because they spend their time listening, not speaking. They don’t go on about themselves, they don’t show off or try to be something they are not. They are simply there to lend a patient ear to those in need, and they only give advice when they are asked for it.

That’s quite different from the rest of us who can probably go on and on about our life story. I’ve seen it so many times, people trying to ‘have a conversation’ but what they were really doing was reeling out monologues in between each other’s pauses. It’s not a big shock to see that these people eventually fail to make deeper friendships and connections.

It’s fascinating to see the differences that come from just shutting up every once in a while. Who knows, perhaps if you try listening a little more, you might discover something, or someone, amazing.

simple act

Listen to someone intently today. Try to resist judgement or the temptation to give advice. Observe how they react when you don’t interrupt. Do they end up sharing more?

Moving From Home to Dorm – Part 2 : Arrival

So you’ve arrived. Now everything you own is piled up in your room, ready for you to unpack. Here are some tips on how to do it in the least time possible, so that you have the most time possible to socialise with your new room-mates.

1. Keep everything in out of the way in one corner. At first. Unpacking is going to take you a while, so if you dump everything on your bed or desk as soon as you arrive you’ll soon find yourself rearranging your un-arranged things so that you can put stuff where you’ve dumped it…get it?

2. Visualise where you want to put everything before you start.I don’t mean you have to draw out a detailed business plan about how you are going to alphabetise your books or colour code your clothes, just have a quick think about where you are going to put everything before you start, or you’ll spend hours rearranging everything afterwards when you realised that you actually want to reach your books easier from your desk or stuffing box files under your bed means you’ll have to bury under there quite often.

3. Arrange. As you unpack, put things roughly where you want them to get the main pile down. Put the bedding on the bed, clothes in the wardrobe and the books on the shelf. After most of the main pile is gone, you can start to arrange the things properly. Make your bed, sort your books (subject/alphabet etc.), organise your wardrobe (colour/type/day-nightwear etc). Don’t forget to use labels wherever you can to remind you where things are in boxes and folders.

4. Keep everything in it’s place but be flexible. Over the next few days, weeks and months to keep everything in it’s place as best you can. Keep everything organised whilst you’re working. A quick five minute clean-up every night is ideal. It will keep you relaxed if you know where everything is. But be prepared to move things around if things aren’t working out for you. Don’t be stuck with things in awkward places because you ‘can’t be bothered’. For example, if you have a few minutes, look around and think carefully if there’s a way to organise say, your wardrobe to be more space saving.

5. Relax. After all your hard work, sit back and relax. Have a good look around, this is where you’ll be spending the next year. Relish your first moment of independence. Once you’re done, if you haven’t already go outside and meet your room-mates.

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5 Common Myths about Minimalism

Throughout human history we’ve never had so much stuff in abundance that we would voluntarily choose to have any less than we can get. Given the chance, it’s in our nature to take everything we can for the sake of survival.

But in modern times, taking has gone way beyond the necessities of food and shelter, and consumerism has taken over to the point that we’re killing our own people and destroying our own planet for the sake of the latest gadgets.

Thankfully, in the last couple of years, things have turned the other way and the minimalist movement has picked up momentum.

While I’m happy that news about minimalism has become mainstream, I’m not a big fan of articles that show people sitting like monks in their bare one bedroom apartment with a toothbrush and a towel laid out in front of them.

These articles only show one type of minimalism, and in my opinion intimidates regular people for who it isn’t feasible to live under such extreme circumstances.

There is still so much misunderstanding around what minimalism actually is. Here are the top five misconceptions I hear most often:

Top 5 Myths

1. You can only have 100 [or insert number here] things or less. Don’t you dare have 101 things otherwise you’ll have to get rid of something! Only kidding, there’s no need to keep strict numbers on your possessions. Just follow the general rule of only having what you need, clear out every now and then, and you’ll be fine. The world will keep turning if you have a few more things than an arbitrary number plucked from the sky, yet people think that minimalists are obsessed with counting each sock. There are some who do, but the rest of us spend our energies actually living our best lives.

2. Your home/walls/furniture can only be white, no fun allowed. Although I’m a big fan of minimalist interior design, it’s really only a Pinterest/Tumblr hobby, not reality. Let’s look at the bigger picture. Rather than focus on the things that we don’t have, or are depriving ourselves of, let’s focus on what we do have, and which of those things give us the most joy and add value in life. This applies not just to how we decorate our homes, but also to the people, commitments and things we spend our time on/for every day.

3. You can’t want or have nice things.  Let’s be clear, cheap is different from frugal. Being cheap means buying things of low quality that you’ll have to replace after it breaks. Frugal means buying only what you need, and looking for good deals for things of good quality. Therefore, you can be frugal, but still buy expensive things because you expect it to last a long time. In any case, even if it is a nice thing, if you need it, you’re allowed to buy it! So called ‘minimalists’ might frown at your fifth pair of shoes, but if you need an extra pair because running and hiking shoes are actually different things, you can have both!

4. You need to be a young single male who likes to backpack around the world. Er, no. You’re allowed to join The Minimalist Club™* whether you’re old or young, male or female, or if you have a partner or family, even if it means you’ll have a couple more things, they’ll still let you in. Kids need clothes and toys and you can’t just wear the same two things every day because you have to look respectable at work. You can live out of an actual house if you wanted, and you don’t have to travel if it’s not your thing. We all want different things in life, and as long as you can afford those things that are useful or make you happy, you’re allowed to have them.

5. You can’t get attached or sentimental about anything. Minimalism isn’t hard-core non-attachment Buddhism. You’re allowed to like the things you own, or feel sentimental about things that mean a lot to you. We’re all human after all, and we all have a favourite mug/sweater/keepsake that would make us unhappier if we lost or broke it. As long we bear in mind that although stuff will inevitably be in our lives, life is not inevitably about stuff.

If all this sounds to you like I’m making excuses for ‘non-minimalist’ habits, then you’ve still got minimalism all wrong. There aren’t any rules. People think that minimalism as a lifestyle means having less, when in fact what it really means is having more. Don’t fall for these misconceptions—do your own research and find the path that suits you.

Plugging holes

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying hard to not log on my laptop everyday like I used to, and enjoy my time offline a little more.

So the other day, when I sat down to relax but found a slew of comments from people informing me that I had a spam post on my site, I was horrified to see that someone had managed to publish a post of complete nonsense under a different username! What cheek! I can’t say that I wasn’t a bit upset for losing a couple dozen geek points too for having my security breached.

To all my readers that received it in their feed (damn you google caching), I’m so sorry about that!

I was quite upset and I spent the next hour looking up what could have happened and what I could do to fix and prevent it. Then for the next few days, I logged on twice everyday to check that the spammers weren’t back.

Slowly, I noticed that I was regaining some of my obsessive habits again, so after a few deep breaths,  I came to realize something very important.

We can’t spend our lives constantly plugging holes.

Things like this can happen anywhere and at any time, so I could either let incidents like this push me back on track of constant obsessing or I can fix it, learn from it and move onto bigger and better things.

If we spend all of our time meticulously tracking stuff, looking for problems, and trying to keep every single thing in our lives working, it would be impossible for us to get anywhere. There are too many things in our lives to keep a mental eye on, including anything from our weight, news/gossip, email, finances to our work/grades, gadgets and a thousand other things. To keep something working 95% of the time is infinitely easier than keeping it working 100% of the time.

Being careful about important things (like the security of my blog :S) is definitely helpful, but becoming obsessed can be more destructive to our goals than constructive.

It’s like spending all out time trying to patch up every hole in a run-down house instead of realizing that we’re supposed to be living in it, not maintaining it. So we can either stubbornly stay and worry about all of the things that are wrong with it or we can stop wasting our time and move on.

This doesn’t mean we should give up when things start getting tough, but instead that we shouldn’t let fear of our weaknesses and failures stop us from trying for successes.

In any case, if we happen to make mistakes, we should just take them as lessons learned (I had deleted the spam post straight away but looking back I realized it was probably best to have changed it’s contents to a proper post), and be glad that we even showed up in the first place, which is more than you can say for most people.