Take care of yourself!

We’re going to Yellowstone this weekend!

While that’s clearly not interesting for anyone who reads this post, I wanted to make the broader point that it is critical to take care of ourselves. Always, but even more so in a pandemic!

Taking care of ourselves is not just one specific thing that we need to do – it requires a balanced approach. Here is my personal top 10 list for wellbeing (add your own strategies to it):

  1. Eat well – For the Chinese, nutrition is one of the three sources of life energy and the one that we have the most control over replenishing. A car doesn’t run well on bad gas, and we don’t perform well on unhealthy food. Take your time to eat and eat healthily. There is lots of science out there, and much of it disagrees with each other, so find out what works best for your body.
  2. Stay hydrated – It’s embarrassing, but we only learned this when we moved to the US (being hydrated was not a thing to think about in the German culture). Most of our body consists of water, and without it, we perish pretty quickly. Stay hydrated, stay sharp. The jury is still out as to whether coffee counts for this or not…
  3. Sleep enough – All parents know what sleep deprivation does to our brains. Well, if you have a newborn – bad luck (for a while). However, if you don’t, it’s in your control. Figure out what the right amount of sleep is for you and make sure that you get those hours consistently. Work is so much easier if we go into it awake and alert.
  4. Do sports – And with that, I mean the type where you sweat, not the one where you sit on the couch and watch TV. No matter what your preferred mode of movement is, any movement is better than no movement. Go for a walk, lift weights, take a run around the block, practice Yoga,… –  No matter what it is, make time for doing it regularly. You will feel much more energized and balanced after a good workout.
  5. Take a deep breath, take a pause – Don’t try to power through but rather plan for regular breaks. Work focused for a predetermined stretch of time, and then take a break. Get away from your office desk, grab some water, or walk around the block. There’s lots of research that shows the benefit of regular short breaks between periods of focused and undistracted work.
  6. Do one thing at a time – Speaking of undistracted work, do one thing at a time. For one, it’s proven that humans cannot multitask. In addition to being inefficient, trying to do multiple things at the same time also increases our anxiety levels. Work feels more overwhelming. Do one thing and only one thing. Turn off all distractions (email, notifications, etc.) while you’re focusing on a task. Block time for it.
  7. Take downtime / do nothing time – Six days of work, one day of rest. Whatever your formula is, make sure that ‘do-nothing time’ is part of it. Do-nothing time is a time where you have no goals and no bad feelings if you don’t ‘accomplish’ anything. It’s not “I must read a book”, it’s the absence of having to do anything. Try to just follow the flow, to the point where you’re almost bored. Then enjoy that feeling of space and potential.
  8. Get outside – It’s not too long ago that we climbed down from the trees. We are still deeply connected to nature, and being in nature is a major source of energy, rooting, and balance for all of us. Make time to get out into nature! Whether it’s your backyard, a city park, or a remote wilderness – connect with where we came from.
  9. Make time for things you love – We’re all passionate about our work. But I hope that’s not the only passion that you have. Make time for what gives you energy and drive outside of work. Create some art, read a book, play a game, watch your kids. Whatever it is, don’t let COVID distract you from it.
  10. Nurture relationships – Last not least, don’t hide away from other folks. This is not the time to retreat into your cave. We might have some constraints on physical connections these days, but we have powerful technology at our hands to overcome those constraints. Call your best friends, keep close connections with family and friends. Seek energy and support from others.

Often when we’re under stress, we cut down on all of the above first. That’s wrong, do the opposite! Focus on your wellbeing first, which will boost your effectiveness and make you way more successful at your work tasks as well.

The Fallacy of Measuring Everything

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I wrote many times that you cannot manage what you don’t measure. While I still agree with that principle for most of the things we do, especially those we need to drive towards a certain goal, I will make a counterpoint in this post today.

The counterpoint is that we are overdoing measuring ourselves and pushing ourselves towards goals in today’s culture. We’re mechanizing every single part of our lives.

As always, the magic lies in the balance, and balance is what we are often losing sight of.

We push and measure ourselves at work. We track every single minute, make ROI (Return of Investment) decisions for everything we do and don’t allow any slack or waste (i.e. idle time or downtime).

Then we come home from work and do the same all over again. We track the time we spend on different activities, run through our task and priority lists, make sure every evening for the kids is booked and planned with some enrichment activity, and even when we go for a walk in nature we’re tracking our steps, distance, and how we rank against our buddies.

We deprive ourselves of downtime, time to go with the flow, time to think and let our thoughts go free, time to recharge and recover.

Everything must be in balance to thrive. Respect that balance.

Let go, as much and as often as you push and focus.

Contrary to previous posts and recommendations, I’ve lately stopped tracking my steps and recreational activities. I’m not measuring ‘fun’, ‘recovery’, and ‘relaxation’ anymore, as I realized that measuring those and pushing myself to do more and better, only turns it into another chore. ‘Recovery’ becomes another drain instead of something that recharges us.

I’m still pushing hard against goals at work, and I have a list of things I need to do in my private life. I still have clear goals and outcomes I want to achieve. However, I am now also clearly identifying areas, where none of those measurements matter, and I can just go with whatever happens at the moment.

I have a general framework of how I want to spend my time (family, mindfulness, sports, and nature), but I won’t sweat or be mad at myself if I didn’t do all of them every week. I also don’t worry anymore if I spent 5mins on a walk with my dog or 30mins. It’s the quality that counts, and how much it helped me unwind and recharge.

I have very clear goals and metrics for work, however, I also identified areas, especially in my personal life, where I only go with loose frameworks and personal values.

It is liberating, and it gives me more focus and energy to measure and manage the things that need to be managed.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Make sure ‘measurement’ and ‘achievement’ is not the only tool you have in your toolbox.

 


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: Develop an Accountability Mindset and Culture

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High performing teams trust each other. Like raising an orchid, building trust requires a lot of attention and dedication to nurture, but it can be broken by a single mistake.

If you cannot trust your teammates, morale will go down. If you cannot trust your manager, you will hate to go to work. If you cannot trust your employee, you will avoid giving them important work.

Accountability matters

Accountability is one of the big inputs to trust. Can you depend on your co-worker’s deliverable to be ready in time and quality when you need it? Or do you need to chase them down, or worst case have to fix issues yourself in the last minute?

Decide if you commit, but once you do it, do it fully.

Accountability does not mean that you have to say yes to everything. However, once you do, make it a personal promise. Make it a matter of personal pride and values to come through on your promises.

Asking for help – be specific

Be specific when you ask someone for help. Don’t make ambiguous statements like “Someone should do X.” No one will feel responsible. In first responder training, they teach you to point to a person and tell them exactly what to do, otherwise no one will hear you.

Ask directly, explaining the ‘why’: “In order to achieve X, can you do Y by Z?”

Agreeing to help – treat it as a personal promise

When you are asked to help, you don’t have to say ‘yes’. You don’t have to agree to the timeline right away. It’s ok to explain tradeoffs if you take on that new task. It’s ok to ask what drives the timeline and offer a different date that you can make. Ask questions, understand reason and priority, be clear what you can do by when before you commit.

Once you commit you commit. It’s not ok to pay lip service and then let the other person hang. It’s not a badge of honor to miss a promise because you were “too busy”.

You need to make a personal promise or say “no”. Right there and then. Don’t leave it ambiguous, hoping a miracle happens along the way or everyone will forget.

When you do commit and confirm, be specific: “I will do X by Y.”

After you committed, block time in your calendar right away. Treat your commitment as a personal promise. Delivering against your commitment will not only impact how you are viewed in the team, it also subconsciously reflects on how you perceive your own personal integrity.

In many ways, the worst impact one has by not delivering on promises is onto oneself.

 


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: If You Make a Mistake Keep Going

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What’s the difference between a beginner making a mistake and a master making the same mistake?

The beginner will notice the mistake, stop, blame himself for making the stupid mistake and maybe even stop altogether for the day in frustration. He might contemplate for a long while, why this mistake has happened and how embarrassing the situation was.

The master accepts the situation and keeps going without a blink. Later when there is time, she will reflect on what led to the mistake and how she might be able to prevent it in the future. She will practice the situation and be prepared to deal with it the next time it might occur. She will not waste energy to dwell in self-blame or pity.

I once saw this mindset live in perfect demonstration. Tsuguo Sakumoto, a 9th degree black belt and the leader of Ryuei-ryu karate, demonstrated a Kama kata. Kama are Okinawan sickles. They have razor-sharp blades and the kata consists of lightning fast movements swirling two of them through the air at the same time.

Master Sakumoto made a mistake while demonstrating this kata to a crowd of about hundred people, all highly ranked karate-kas. One of the blades came in contact with the handle of the other. it cut right through the wood and made the other blade fly high through the air. Master Sakumoto was lucky that he hadn’t cut off some fingers.

This was a scary moment, a pretty bad mistake and could have been embarrassing. Other athletes might have gone in frustration and maybe thrown their tennis rack on the ground, storming out of the court. Not the karate master. He kept going as if nothing had happened. Not a moment of hesitation, not a blink, not a flinch. He was a hundred percent committed and finished the form. After that he bowed, went, picked up the other blade and was ready for questions from the audience.

Be in the moment. Finish what you have started. Don’t get thrown off by what you didn’t expect. Don’t dwell in analysis and get stuck in something that has already happened and which you can’t influence anymore. Think about it when you have time and then move on.

When you make a mistake in your practice don’t miss a beat. Realize and acknowledge what has happened. Decide if you need to adjust and move on in the same instance. Don’t let it throw you off.

The same is true for life. When you hit a bump in the road you need to keep going. Practice this mindset in martial arts. Make it your second nature and then make sure you apply the same mindset in your daily life.

 


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: “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 on Achieving Your Goals: Not Everything is as Urgent as it Appears

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A critical part of being accountable and delivering against your commitments (promises!) is to actually have bandwidth for them, in other words to not over-commit.

We already talked about how it is ok – actually expected – to say ‘no’ when needed. What we didn’t talk about yet are timelines (or ‘deadlines’ to make it even more scary sounding).

Not everything is as urgent as it might appear at first glance.

Clarify expectations

Not everything that comes from your leadership comes with a “drop everything else and do this right now” expectation. In most cases, leaders just want to know when they can expect an answer and have the confidence that they don’t need to spend their energy to track that deliverable for you.

Don’t assume. Clarify and verify.

If a request came in without a timeline or clarification on urgency, don’t assume. Just ask: “Hey, when do you need this by?

No decent leader will hold it against you if you ask, “By when do you need this?” I’m actually pretty sure for most leaders this will register as a plus point (if it doesn’t it’s time to look for a different leader).

What leaders want to know is whether you commit to provide the answer and by when. They want to be confident that you will do it and that they don’t have to worry about it. They will tell you if a timeline is not flexible and why.

As an employee, train your leader to provide that information with her requests in the future. However, also make extra-sure that you are managing yourself against that timeline! It is super frustrating as a leader if you need to keep your own reminders on everything you need, because you cannot rely on open loops to be closed without your constant follow-up.

Understand timelines

Not everything needs to happen right now. In fact, very few things are truly urgent, although many are perceived or presented as urgent or initially appear non-negotiable.

Unfortunately corporate culture has developed many bad habits in order to try to compensate for low accountability:

  • Setting deadlines way ahead of time to build in buffer
  • Setting short deadlines so that people do it right now and don’t get distracted
  • Setting deadlines just because that’s what you do
  • And the worst: setting a short deadline because something was sitting idle on your own desk for too long and now it’s really time to make progress

Understand the true urgency and timeline. Offer a plan to get there. Make sure you hit the plan.

Feel empowered to understand and validate urgency and tight deadlines. Ask for when a task is truly due. If it requires you to drop other things, understand what drives the urgency and what breaks if the deadline is missed.

If you think a deadline has a ‘safety buffer’ built in, ask for the real deadline. However, once you get the real deadline, you must make sure that you will be ready by that time. Otherwise, you just teach your partners to add additional buffers to manage in the future to work around your tardiness and unreliability.

If a deadline is infeasible, check your calendar and priorities and see when you can make it. Offer that alternative plan and check for agreement. If pushed, be clear what you will have to sacrifice in order to make that timeline.

In most cases, you will find that a deadline is actually negotiable.

 


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: Small Changes Can Have Huge Impact

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I am not obsessed with my weight. To me, weight is just one input to an overall healthy life and lifestyle. However, I noticed that I had gained almost 15 pounds over the last half-year without really knowing why. That disturbed and frustrated me to be honest.

I did make a plan to do more sports but couldn’t follow through to the extent that I wished due to work demands. Actually I didn’t increase my workout frequency at all. So I decided to accept the gain for now and tackle it in a few months when work demands have calmed down a little bit.

Surprisingly, over the last few weeks I noticed that my weight has dropped back down 10 pounds. I didn’t really focus on anything specific to get there. I didn’t even know what caused it. So I went on a little inventory of changes that I had made to my rhythms and habits lately:

  • I stopped drinking my one or two glasses of wine with dinner in the evening to have a better sleep
  • I stopped drinking a protein shake in the morning and a few lattes throughout the day, because milk left me with a ‘slimy’ feeling which I wanted to reduce
  • I wanted to leverage the quiet morning hours at work and thus skipped reading the news in the morning, instead going straight to the shower, which also meant I wouldn’t eat the 4 pieces of chocolate while checking for news

Those are really the only lifestyle changes I can think of, yet they made me get back towards my optimal weight without explicitly trying.

Small changes do have an outsized impact!

Don’t try to make big swoops of dramatic changes to your life. They are hard. Rather chip away on the small things and allow them to add up.

 


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: 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.

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.

2017-05-09 Ikebana 001

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!