Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: “Making daisy chains takes my mind off”

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We need to listen more to our kids, they are the true teachers.

I was making daisy chains with our daughter today – actually she taught me how to make daisy chains. Seeing her work quietly, I asked her what was going through her mind.

Her answer was worthy of a Zen master:

I don’t think anything when I make daisy chains. Making daisy chains takes my mind off.

Had I asked the same question to any adult, I would have gotten a long list of unrelated thoughts back.

There’s a lot to learn from our daughter.

  • Be in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing.
  • Don’t worry about other things while you’re doing what you like.
  • Find pleasure and passion in the things you’re doing right now.

Watch your kids closely, there’s a lot we can learn from them!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections from Tai Chi Class Today

I usually don’t share discussions and lessons from class here, but today we talked about one that I think is worth sharing outside of our little Tai Chi family.

Pushing hands – Like water, like wind

We did quite a bit of pushing hands in class today. We don’t do it very often in our regular Tai Chi classes, but when we do, it’s a great way to feel, practice and guide our energy, face external obstacles and get direct feedback on our own actions.

It helps us understand the form on a deeper level, and it also presents broader lessons that apply to all areas of life.

Here’s the key point:

Don’t have a preconceived plan. Listen and react to the situation. Feel the energy and respond to it.

Our as our teacher, Hilmar Fuchs, likes to say:

Keep your mind open for opportunities. When they present themselves, go for it.

With that, we learn to ‘listen’ in push hands, to ‘keep our eyes open’ for challenges (attacks) and opportunities (openings).

Some of the principles we study in pushing hands:

  1. Have your mind on the end goal, on what you want to achieve. Don’t hold yourself back by overthinking the challenges in front of you, or thinking they are unsurmountable.
  2. Don’t try to force your way because you had a certain plan and want to stick to it.
  3. Don’t miss opportunities because you weren’t ready yet, or because they don’t fit in your plan and timeline.
  4. Be frugal, only move when you need to. Only react when you get energy. Don’t be mechanical, if there is no signal, there is no need for response.
  5. Don’t be stiff either, be flexible. The tree bends to the wind, the water flows around the rock, the wind reaches into every corner. On the other hand, the frozen branch breaks upon resistance.

When you get the principles right, you don’t need force

When we need to apply force, speed or trickery to overcome our partner (or obstacle), then we got the timing and the principles wrong. When we can be soft and calm, and still achieve our goals, then we did the right thing at the right time.

Strive to be soft (flexible) and calm, while maintaining course towards your goal.

When there is an opening, allow your energy to flow into it. When you pull a bolder out of the stream, the water will fill the void without hesitation.

When there is resistance, go around it. Every hard spot has a corresponding soft spot that is presented to you as a gift.

And in ‘real’ life?

After class we talked a little about the application of these principles to life and business.

It’s the same thing.

You want to have a general sense of where you want to go (we call it strategy), you want to simulate a few things that could happen to train your sensitivity (often referred to as business plan). But after that, you need to look and listen carefully to what is happening.

Keep your goal in mind, but lock your plan away where you can’t see it. Sense, listen, and react (we often call this experimentation and learning, or ‘little bets’). If an opening (an unexpected opportunity) presents itself, then go for it, whether the time is right or not (it usually never is). The goalpost is durable, the actual path to get there usually is unexpected.

Opportunities you didn’t predict will present themselves (openings), challenges you did’t anticipate will get in your way (resistance). Stay sensitive, flexible, and oriented towards forward momentum (project your energy to your goal, not to the obstacle in your way).

In the military they say:

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Be attentive, be flexible, be nimble, and be open for the unexpected.

Strategy gradually evolves – tactics pivot on a dime.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: The Four Burners

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I read and interesting article about work life balance, “The Downside of Work Life Balance” by James Clear.

The theory

The theory is that you can compare juggling your life with four burners. One for Family, one for health, one for friends and one for career (you might notice that I sorted and prioritized them differently from James).

The statement then is that in order to be successful you have to cut down one burner so you can focus on the others. In order to be really successful you have to cut down two burners.

James talks about various strategies you can apply to get there. I see a core of truth and value in most of them, but I think they are also each similarly dangerous for a balanced life.

Life has seasons

The strategy that comes closest to something that makes sense to me is the ‘seasonal strategy’ – you focus on different things in different life stages. That does make sense, you want to set priorities as you go through life. When you start a new career, focus on learning, when you have kids, focus on raising them well.

Where I disagree is the assumption that you should focus completely during those times. What good is a high paying job and a great career if you don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits? How much is your wealth worth if your kids don’t talk to you anymore when you’re old and seeking company? How useful is that dream body if you don’t have friends?

Seek a balanced life but set focus points

My point here is that the key is a balanced life. Yes it is! Work life balance got a bad vibe in recent years with our gig economy and always-on mentality. You need to balance though! You need to invest in the long-term!

You can make the seasonal model work if you pick a few constraints:

  • Family – Never compromise on family. Ever. Really.
  • Health – Have a baseline for health. Don’t go below it. You might not need to train for Iron Man every year, but you do want to live to your retirement.
  • Career – Double down on career growth when the return is right. Change your career when it isn’t. However doubling down needs to come with a timeline. You cannot double down for 30 years. Treat it like a marathon with deliberate sprints in between.
  • Friends – The friends that truly matter. They will understand if you have times when you’re busy and need to focus on other things. Just explain it to them. They will wait for you.

Never compromise on family, never go under a baseline for health, adjust the rest with a clear focused plan.

Yes, it’s four burners. But if you turn any of them down too much for too long of a time, your meal will go bad before you can serve it.

Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon with sprints in between.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 48: Hike Your Own Hike!

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Up to now we have talked about many new habits and behaviors to live healthier, be more effective at our jobs and give more time to our spirituality. We gave you many suggestions and frameworks to balance your lives.

Try it; then adopt it and make it yours

Try them out and see what works for you. Then sit back and reflect. Use what works, change and adapt what doesn’t and discard what feels wrong. It needs to be about you. I know what works for me, I cannot know and prescribe what works for you.

There are two martial arts teachings that reflect this well. One is a old principle for teaching martial arts:

The teacher shows the door. The students needs to walk through it on their own.

The other is my favorite quote from the famous founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba:

“Learn and forget.”
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

Don’t blindly follow gurus and role models, or what I am writing in this book. All of those are inputs, suggestions, food for thought. Only you can find out what works for you. No one else can do that for you.

Learn new ways. Try them out until you understand them. Then forget the rules and let your intuition kick in. Be surprised and amazed by what will unfold.

What you ‘can’ versus what you ‘want’

Be careful to understand what you WANT to do. Often we just keep doing what we’re doing because we became reasonably good at it.

For example, I like to help others. I see where I can pitch in and make others great while also making a great living for myself. I am good at working in big IT companies, managing complex projects and products. But is it what I really want? That is a question that I need to check in with myself on a regular basis and get to a honest answer.

It’s too easy to just keep doing what you’re good at. To just follow the inertia of the path you started on when you were a different person all those years ago after High School.

I’m not saying you need to change your path. I’m saying though, that you need to be conscious and deliberate about it. Don’t just let it happen. When it’s time, find the courage to re-invent yourself.

Be careful to differentiate between what you can do, what is the natural next step to do (inertia) and what you really want.

Find your own way

Once you know what works for you and you know what path you want to follow, go there. Blaze your own trail, or as they say in the hiker community: “Hike your own hike.”

Be courageous. Don’t look at others for models or confirmations. Invent your path as you push forward. ‘Boldly go where no man has gone before.’ (You have to find where that reference comes from… 🙂

Hike your own hike!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Invest in Experiences, Not Stuff

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Every now and then we ask ourselves the big questions: “What is this life all about? What will we leave behind? What will be our legacy?”

There are many great answers to these questions. Most of them come down to making a difference. Changing the world (for the ambitious crowd) or changing how others perceive us by getting rich, pretty(er) or famous (for the more egocentric folks out there).

What I personally really want to leave behind are fond memories and strong bonds with the people in my life that I care about most, especially with my family.

Which is a long intro to get to the point I want to make in this post: focus your time and energy on creating rich experiences, fond memories and with that strong bonds.

Focus on experiences

Making time for and investing in experiences was one of the big resolutions and promises to each other that Uli and I made when we moved to the US.

Back in Germany we were always super busy during the week, exhausted on the weekend and as a result crashed on the couch in front of the TV most weekends instead of going out and experiencing the world.

We were also living in the same area where I grew up and subconsciously we probably thought we had already seen it all anyways.

So how do you do this ‘experience thing’?

Block time, make it a priority

First of all, as for everything, you need to decide to actually do it and commit to it. Block time, protect that time. Define a measurable goal or success criteria. For us it was to commit to going outside or doing at least one fun and engaging activity every single weekend.

You need to defend that time since you will of course have errands to do every weekend that will distract you from your goal. Do it! The renewed energy you will gain from your experiences will let you blast through your other responsibilities much more effectively once you’re back.

You will also often need to kick your own behind because all you really want to do is to actually crash on the coach. Get yourself going. Get over the hump. You will feel much better afterwards. And if not, you can still get your beer and chips and decide that I suggested a really stupid idea to you.

On a side note, Uli and I don’t watch TV at all anymore – it’s too much of a time and energy sucker. The only exception is the occasional movie night with the kids, which quite frankly is much more about the experience than the actual movie when you watch Frozen for the 20th time.

Keep your curiosity

The big stuff is awesome. We love going to National Parks and spending our vacations camping in nature.

Don’t waste your time waiting for your next vacation though. There is so much to explore right here, every day. Keep your eyes open and be curious like a child. If you have a hard time doing that, watch your children, they will teach you. Rediscover your inner child and its playful curiosity and wonder for the world.

Invest in experiences

Rather than buying lots of stuff, that will soon end up at your next garage sale, spend your resources on experiences.

Instead of buying that beautiful little thing, go to your state park website and book a campsite for next weekend. Instead of renting that movie, get gas for your car, grab your loved ones and drive into the mountains. And instead of buying your kids that new toy, get them a swim suit and go to the lake.

Our biggest investment this year will probably be a new camping trailer since our old one starts to fall apart. Rather than a new TV or car or whatever status symbol we could show off to friends and coworkers, this will bring us out with our kids for irreplaceable bonding time and fun. You don’t need a trailer though, a tent or picnic basket will do just fine. The point is, focus on getting stuff that make you create experiences.

Which brings me back to closing the loop with my intro.

Leave a legacy for your kids

What really made us double down on experiences are our kids. They are still young and sometimes even listen to mommy and daddy. Sometimes.

So we still have direct influence on their lives and views of the world. That won’t last much longer though. Friends will take over as influencers. They will become more and independent and soon take off into their own lives. They will have their own families and kids and will carry forward what they picked up from us.

So what can we leave?

Teachings and rules? Unlikely to stick.

Stuff? Maybe. They will be ‘thrilled’ to have to get rid of all of the old ‘junk’ that we will leave them.

Memories? For sure. And I think experiences and shared memories will shape their lives more than any smart advice we can give them. After all teaching by example is still the most effective method of teaching (it might well be the only one that actually works).

Invest your time, energy and resources in building experiences. Through that, create strong bonds and memories with your loved ones. And have a TON of fun along the way!

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Minimalism – Simplify Your Life

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I guess this is one of the basic principles in my life so far. Be it my choices in sports: Karate, Tai Chi, other Martial Arts or in arts: Ikebana, Sumi Painting, Photography or woodworking.

Yes, Minimalism or Simplifying your life is a modern trend, but looking back it has been part of my life all the time.

Sports and Minimalism

Following a totally random choice of starting Karate (Shotokan) at the University Sports Club at Ludwig- Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich, Germany, while pursuing some extracurricular education in Sports Medicine, I not only found my passion for Martial Arts, but for the simpler things in life. The less embellishments, the more straight forward your move is, the more powerful it will be. No extras added. If you take a closer look at the Karate you see in competitions or movies, you might think those fancy jumps or moves look cool. But in the end, the guy who studies his opponent, finds the opening and delivers the final blow, is the one who will be successful. No fancy, good-looking cinematic stuff required.

Trying to remember the name of one movie, I think it was “The Seven Samurai” (Akirao Kurosawa), where there is one Samurai being attacked by a group of Ninja’s. He is calmly waiting inside a house and suddenly starts moving. Every single stroke of his sword hit’s the intended target.

I remember one of the first books I read in connection to Martial Arts was Jon Hyam’s “Zen in the Martial Arts” (“Der Weg der leeren Hand” in German). I have re-read it several times since then. Empty your bowl, if you want to learn new things. His stories still inspire me and help me reflect.

The same fits for Tai Chi. Flowing movements, but also straight forward and no extras. Focus on breathing and meditation more than the movements themselves. Meditation in motion does not really need fancy forms, but being present in that moment and not thinking of other things. Those thoughts are not important right at this moment. Put them on a shelf and unpack them if needed afterwards when you are ready to focus on a new task.

I did Yoga for a couple of years and it feels as if it is the same. Moving from one pose to the next offers you the time to focus and reflect. Be it reflection on your current physical condition or the things which concern you right now. And whichever Yoga teaching you are following, it often is the reduction of movements which brings your life back into focus. I was lucky enough to find an amazing teacher right here in our backyards and am truly sorry that I am not continuing with this right now. Maybe I will get back to it when the time is right.

Any of the martial arts I tried so far have that major commonality (Gemeinsamkeit (D)), be it Aikido, SMR (Shinto Muso Ryu) or Kobudo. No embellishments, focus on the one practise, focus on the moment.

Art and Minimalism

Ikebana (Japanese Flower arrangement) teaches you the art to embrace spaces. To not only see the flowers, but emphasize their beauty by reducing it to the basic components. Sometimes the empty spaces are the most important ones. The hardest part at the beginning of my  learning voyage was to be brave enough to cut off petals or leafs or even branches. Sometimes you feel so sorry and afraid to do it, just to realize that after you did it, it enhanced the beauty of your arrangement. It still is sometimes hard.

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If you know Sumi-e or Sumi Painting, you also realize the focus on the simplification. Ink is your medium and even if you add some color here or there, it still is the reduction of strokes, which shows the essence of the painting.

If you look at the best pictures of well-known photographers, they most often focus on one thing. I am thinking of those pictures on National Geographic, where you see the one polar bear trotting over ice, the one wave crashing on top of you or the one little bright-colored frog in the rainforest. I know someone who makes awesome Macro Photos, just depicting a raindrop on an insect or a leaf on the ground. Focus on the reduction of visual deterrents and reduce the stress in which we are surrounded every day.

Even though I’ll never be (nor want to be) Mary Kondo, the author of “The Art of Tidying up”, I still strive to simplify and reduce. I need space surrounding me. Clutter at home or in my surrounding really drains my energy. No, I am anything but perfect in this realm, but I am definitely working on it. Two major learnings here: everything has its space, and one thing in, at least one thing out!

And never forget to breathe!

Spiritual Balance – Week 45: Practice Mindfulness

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You hear people talking about ‘mindfulness’ a lot these days. Some of it is hype, but it also is for good reason. For centuries philosophers, artists and monks have stressed the importance of being in the moment. Of fully living in the ‘now’. One key Zen principles is to ‘be in the here and now’.

Be in the here and now.

Mindfulness has many benefits to offer. It helps us be better at what we are doing, because we give it our full focus. It helps to calm our mind, because we don’t get distracted and torn between many things at the same time. And it helps us to be happier, because we put our full attention to the moment and with that have deeper and more satisfying experiences.

Uli teaches mindfulness for kids at our Elementary School and it helps kids who are struggling with their attention to re-center and to manage their emotions better. What she does are very simple exercises, but they have a strong and hopefully lasting impact on those kids.

Put some mindfulness into your life as well. That does not at all mean, that you need to book fancy classes or expensive coaches. It much rather means to simplify your thinking and to bring it back to the details of the current moment.

Focus on the task – What are you doing right now? What precisely? Are you on auto-pilot? If so, turn it off and go manual. Bring your attention back into what you’re doing. Deliberately execute every single step of your current task

Experience the environment – What sensations are you exposed to? What do you see, hear, feel and smell? Is it cold or warm right now? What is the feel, weight and texture of the tool you are using right now? What smells and sounds are in your environment?

Tune in to your body – How is your body feeling? Do you have tensions anywhere? Are you standing or sitting upright or slouching down? Are you smiling or frowning? Remember, your outside reflects on your inside, your posture reflects on your mood.

Listen to your breath – Your breath is your simplest but most powerful and important tool. First of all, without proper breathing you will die in minutes. But further, your breathing controls your mood, your stress level and even hormone levels like adrenaline. Learn to breathe deliberately and consciously. Learn to listen to your breathing. Learn to control your breathing and to let your breathing control your mindset. Start by just listening, then expand to gently controlling and adjusting the speed and pattern of your breathing.

Mindful exercises – Some exercises help you to be in the moment. Tai Chi is known for that effect, meditation as well. Yoga can get you there if you do it right. Most martial arts, taught by a true teacher, will lead your there as well. Running on the treadmill and watching the news or reading won’t. Those are good for cardio, but if you exercise distracted, you miss out on the awareness and mindfulness. I even stopped listening to music while I’m running on the trail. I loved it, but listening to the sounds of nature and feeling the gravel under my barefoot running shoes is even better.

Be mindful of what you do – every moment and every little detail of it!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.