This exercise will help increase concentration by using the breath as a focal point for meditation. It should take between 10-15 minutes depending on your natural pace of breathing. This is a great technique to use in the morning before you start your day, or during a break at work.
- John Lennon
There’s a lot of talk in business and self-improvement about what it means to be productive. I believe that outside of providing basic necessities for survival (food, clothing, shelter), a lot of what we value in life is subjective. Therefore, what is a productive activity for one person may not be considered a productive activity for someone else. For example: One person may enjoy a squeaky clean household, so they clean twice a week. Meanwhile another person may not mind some disorganization, so they only clean every other week.
Similarly, I’m sure that everyone can pick out one or two corporations and claim that they are producing nothing of value. Nintendo creates video games, and that just makes people lazy and mindless. Or American Eagle makes expensive polo shirts, who would want that? It is easy for us to critique things we don’t find a particular use or value for, but we can’t do so without neglecting the preferences of others.
Some may argue that we do have an objective way of measuring what is valuable and what isn’t. It’s called prices. But this fails to explain why some people willingly choose a lesser paying job, give to charity, or make deals that don’t maximize economic gain. For example, in the “ultimatum game” one player will propose how to divide a sum of money between two players. If the second player accepts, the deal is valid; but if the second player rejects, neither player receives anything. In one study at Indiana University, results showed that half of participants turned down offers where they would receive less than 30%, even though receiving something would seem better than receiving nothing.
So what does this tell us? Clearly, there are other values that influence our behavior besides just money or material luxury, and one of those values may be “fairness.” The great economist Ludwig von Mises accounted for these motivators of human decision-making by calling these “psychic (or mental) profits and loss.”
- “Psychic profits and losses are sensible, subjective, mental and purely personal. They can be neither measured nor weighed. They can only be felt or sensed.”
Mises advocated this theory over half a century ago, but modern day economists are just beginning to accept that people are not “profit maximizers” in the materialistic sense of the term. Popular books in behavioral economics, like Predictably Irrational, illustrate how some of these psychological forces come into play and shape our everyday choices.
Money isn’t everything.
It may seem obvious, but many still equate productivity with money-making, and this simply isn’t so. As I’ve shown above, values are not synonymous with prices or profits, and many of the values we seek in the world cannot be replaced with material luxury (like health, relationships and creativity). Equally so, this helps explain why many people who are rich still find themselves feeling miserable and depressed.
Certainly, we can’t ignore the importance of money and material items, but studies show that after we reach an income level of around $75,000, an increase in money no longer correlates with increased happiness. It is also true that those who make less than that can still find happiness through the fulfillment of other values.
Many values are subjective and personal.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, we all have slightly different values. Some prefer more organization than others. Some prefer spending more time outside with nature, rather than inside behind a computer. And some prefer different genres of music and movies. These preferences all play into how we should spend our time (both at work and at home).
John Lennon once said “Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted.” And I tend to agree. We should pay attention to what makes us feel fulfilled, and not necessarily what makes someone else fulfilled. If we follow someone else’s roadmap for how we should live life, it is very likely that some of our subjective values won’t be met. We have to think for ourselves.
You define your own productivity.
It’s ultimately up to every individual on how they should spend their life. If you want to move to Tibet and meditate in a cave for the rest of your time on Earth, that is your version of productivity. Go for it! If you want to work your way to CEO of a major company, that is again your choice. Follow your passions and values. The goal of this blog has never been to tell people exactly what they should do with their lives (at most, I sometimes offer suggestions). But the biggest thing for me is to empower individuals to define themselves.
The hardest part about defining your own productivity is ignoring the values that have been pushed onto you by society and external forces. Before we can discover how we want to spend our lives, it often takes some dedicated reflection and self-interrogation. Be aware when you are acting in ways just to meet someone else’s expectations. And never be afraid to ask yourself what you want.
We all have expectations about how people should act and the kind of relationships we want to have throughout our lives. Therefore, it’s normal to sometimes want to change people so that they better meet our expectations.
We know from classic books like Influence that individuals are malleable in a number of ways. Often the deeper our relationships, the more that person will be willing to listen to what we say and follow our advice. However, there is another element of human psychology that is rarely talked about, but always taken for granted: free will. If it’s true that everyone has a sense of will-power, then it’s also true that we can only change people to a limited extent.
We notice this in our everyday life. We’ve all experienced moments where we try to change something about someone, but they actively resist it. No matter how good our advice was or how nice we tried to be, the other person’s will was too strong and they wouldn’t budge.
I confess, I’m not really a minimalist. But I do believe in “optimizing what you have,” and at times that can resemble a bare-bones approach. For instance, one aspect of my life that I have always had trouble in is health. As a youngster I got too engaged in the internet and video games, and neglected much physical activity. Over the last couple of years I have made a somewhat conscious approach in trying to exercise more and take better care of my body, but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done (and most of it is mental, not physical).
I believe that unless I can integrate a healthy attitude long-term, there is no point in pursuing a healthy lifestyle. How many people do you know who literally work their butts off to lose weight, but then have trouble keeping it off? What happened is they overcompensated in order to meet a short-term goal, but they ultimately tired themselves out. They aimed for short-term gratification over long-term growth and sustainability. Thus, the results of their efforts didn’t last.
This is one pitfall of making any health-related goal that aims to meet a certain deadline. Sure it may motivate us up until a point (it’s an external motivator), but it may not instill the internal motivation we need to become a truly healthier person over the course of our lives. I find that health isn’t so much about a gym membership, or joining a sports league, or buying a treadmill, but an attitude we create about our bodies, one which greatly influences our habits.
In this post I am going to go over the bare essentials toward cultivating a healthier lifestyle. In the second half, I will go over some of the ways I apply these skills, as well as a couple material possessions I think will greatly aid any workout.
Bare Essentials of My Minimalist Workout
Yes, awareness is important. If not for any other reason then because it is the one constant in all conscious action and decision-making. The more aware you are of your body, the more attune you are to its needs and demands. When I go extended amounts of time without exercising, I feel and notice my body getting weaker and having less stamina. On the other hand, when I am working out on a frequent basis, my body feels stronger and my stamina increases. This is just one example of how your body sometimes signals whether or not you are treating it right. Eventually, you’ll notice more subtle things. After sitting at the computer for an hour or two, you’ll notice your muscles begin to ache because they want you to move around. The more aware of my body, the more I know when its a good time to get up, go for a walk, or do some stretching.
Enthusiasm is just another word for drive, passion, or intrinsic motivation. It’s commonsense: if we are going to commit ourselves to something, then we need to have the desire to do it. It is much easier to stick to an activity when we don’t think of it as a chore or obligation, but it is something we derive joy just from doing it all on its own. You can integrate enthusiasm into your health life in a number of ways. First, you can identify physical activities you already know you love – maybe you like nature walks or a particular sport you used to play a lot as a child. Secondly, you can create your own fun activities: maybe you can challenge someone to a competition, or make a game out of your work-out routine. You can also instill enthusiasm by listening to music that pumps you up (studies show this can work) or finding a workout environment that inspires you. Find ways to make health fun and it’ll become second-nature.
I imagine that because we are all unique in different ways, we each should have a slightly different workout routine. Some people like running in the mornings, others at night. Some like team sports, others like going solo. Other preferences may include outdoors/indoors, what exercises to do, what machines to use, how often to work-out, how long is each workout, etc. You can’t go into your healthy lifestyle with a predetermined blueprint of how you should act; you need to explore these options on your own, find what works and what motivates you personally. Take suggestions from your friends, family,coaches, and fitness gurus, but experiment with advice before making it a fixed part of your routine.
This is related to exploration, because you should always be testing your limitations and working to overcoming them. All the hurdles and obstacles you encounter help define your path toward improvement; don’t be discouraged when you find your abilities limited, instead use that limitation as a measuring stick for growth. When you overcome it, you know you are putting in the right work.
I think if you get these 4 attitudes down in regards to health: awareness, enthusiasm, exploration and boundary pushing, then you are well on your way to living a healthier lifestyle. Over time, you will cultivate new habits, see the costs and benefits, and know what works best for you. Most importantly, you will be in it for the long haul.
Some of my personal applications of these tools include:
Mindful Stretching/Yoga – This is one of the best ways to start increasing awareness of your body. When you stretch, you automatically turn your awareness to your muscles, joints, tendons, and posture. You’ll be able to identify the boundaries of your stretching, and over time notice yourself becoming more flexible and fit. With some exploration, you’ll discover stretches you never knew you were capable of, so be ready to experiment, but don’t do anything that causes too much pain or discomfort. Start with the main muscles and go lightly, then as you become more stretched out explore your boundaries. I prefer to stretch every morning to help wake myself up and get the blood flowing. When I do, I am usually more aware of my body throughout the day as well.
Use your body weight – You really don’t need much more than your body and some space to start working out. Pushups, crunches, planks, side planks, knee bends, squats, lunges, etc. Find ways to use your weight and gravity to work out different muscles. Here is one really inspiring video of some exercises this guy does with just his body and a living room. You can tell he knows how to have fun and be enthusiastic about his practice:
Use stuff around the house – I bet you I can choose almost any furniture in the house and come up with 3-5 exercises. I know it sounds silly, but we really don’t need to go to Sports Authority to pick up an exercise machine if we want to start building strength. Some common things I use are: chairs, backpacks, stairs, jugs of water, etc. It takes a bit of creativity and exploration, but you can come up with a full body workout if you put your mind to it.
Use anything else available to you – As I said at the beginning, my approach to minimalism is essentially “optimize what you have.” If there is a track a couple blocks by your house, use it to run on during the weekends. Or, if you are like these guys, you can use a local playground to do some serious muscle-building.
I like sharing videos like these because I think fitness is something we can all be more innovative about.
Isometric exercises – These are certain kinds of exercises involving the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. You can do many of them with just your own body, or you can do them against a wall. Here is one example of an isometric exercise designed to tone your chest. Here are some other isometrics you can do in your car at a stop sign or red light. You can find many more of these by searching on YouTube or Google.
Although this article is mainly about optimizing your fitness without the use of weights or machines, I think there is a lot of diverse stuff you can do with just 2 or 3 sets of dumbbells. Here is a great resource that shows over 75 exercises you can do, including exercises for your shoulders, biceps, triceps, back, legs, and more.
In addition, I like having hand grips around, just because they are so easy to do while surfing the internet, or reading, or watching TV.
I also highly recommend working out where there is a full-length mirror (if you don’t have one, I would suggest picking one up). This is crucial if you work out alone (like me) because it’ll help you correct your posture and body awareness.
Now that you’ve found out a little about what I do (and some others), it’s time you start cultivating your own fitness practice. If you are someone who already goes to the gym several times a week or plays sports, you can add some of these ideas into your day to help bring your fitness to another level. If you are someone who has very limited experience with fitness, these are some great starting points.
Please share some of your own tips in the comment section. And if you are interested in more content about self-improvement I recommend joining my newsletter.
A long, long time ago I was a shy introvert involved in the infamous pick-up community.
It was my first taste of personal development. Someone on a Last.fm forum referred me to Ross Jeffries after I ranted about a crappy fall-out with an ex-girlfriend of mine. Soon after that I read The Game, The Mystery Method, and was an active participant in the online community (I still go to some forums on occasion, mostly Stylelife).
I never considered myself a “Pick-up Artist” – honestly, I sucked at it, and spent more time reading about it then doing anything (people in the community have a name for this: “keyboard jockey”). However, during that time I learned a hell-of-a-lot of useful information from a lot of these guys about social psychology, relationships, attraction, and sex. I developed a new perspective and witnessed these principles first-hand playing out in my relationships, as well as the relationships of those around me.
One of the things I learned was that the most successful guys (and girls) in social settings are the ones who are genuinely curious about others. We pass by so many people on a daily basis who we never think to interact with at a deeper level, but there is nothing stopping us from initiating positive interactions no matter where we are: on the bus, shopping for groceries, on vacation, or walking to class.