On setting the bar lower

It should be perfectly obvious, that a person who needs very little, has a higher than average chance of having “enough”.
Someone who lives his life in a manner, that indicates he can’t get enough, probably won’t.
This is simple, but the implications of this truth goes further in my view.

A person who dreams of doing creative painting as a profession, can only achieve this, by becoming sufficiently succesful as a painter, that it can provide him with enough (or more). The more he needs, the more succesful he has to get in order to stay in the game.

The simplistic lifestyle can therefore be considered an enabler of dreams.
Whatever you dream of doing with your life, can potentially be materialized by lowering the basic requirements of your lifestyle. It is my guess, that people who follows this advice has a higher rate of success in pursuing their true goals.

For me, cutting expenses, throwing out stuff and reprogramming my expectations of the future, was what helped me quit the job that I absolutely hated, and try something new. It made it a lot less scary.
I was fortunate enough, that I hadn’t let my needs rise in synchronicity with my income, and that allowed me to not get trapped, as I saw many of my former colleagues do.
Now, I am trying something else, and I love it – even though I don’t spend much money on luxury stuff; I don’t feel like it makes much of a difference on my long-term happiness.

If you are starting out from 0 (or in debt even), see how attainable you can make your ultimate goal, by lowering the bar for survival, before you begin putting in more work than necessary.

This is not about being unambitious. It is about ambitiously optimizing your chances of success – and learning about, what is truly valuable in life.

A minimalist drinks coffee

According to what I have observed, the average, modern minimalist/hipster type is a serious coffee snob.

You may, as an example, have seen The Minimalists promote the coffee house they co-own in Florida, or noticed how all minimalist community meetings are held in coffee houses that serves a top-of-the-line Americano.

But I actually think that this whole coffee fascination fits badly into the simple living ideology.
I get the feeling that many simplicity advocates, take all the money they save from living frugally and reallocates them into a new espresso machine, that can apply the perfect amount of pressure to the coffee-making process.

Thereafter comes the reoccurring extra expenses from supplying oneself with single-estate organic coffee from Kenya, that is so sour that only the supreme connoisseur can enjoy it.

This is not to say, that I am against coffee as a hobby. I just see it used as a tool for signaling that you are part of the group way too often.

And as with everything else, the danger of becoming a connoisseur is that you loose the ability to enjoy an average tasting/feeling/looking product. You loose the ability to see how privileged you are, when you drink an average cup of coffee, compared to what options people had available 100 years ago.

The author, Ryan Holiday, explains it so nicely when he says that he refuses to fly first class because he knows how that soon will be the new norm for him.

The bottom line is, I personally try not to get too heavily into the coffee universe, even though I love coffee. I have tried it, but I have also noticed how much self-deception and placebo effect is involved – just like with wine.

 

How I do

I have even experimented a lot with my own brewing techniques, and found that the way they do it on Bali is the best and simplest one.

The Balinese people simply grinds the beans into an extremely fine texture, put about 1.5 teaspoons of the grounds in a cup, dump boiling water on it and stir.

After a few minutes, the grounds falls to the bottom of the cup, and you are ready to drink – just make sure you stop drinking a little earlier than you normally would, to avoid eating the grounds.

There are 3 reasons why I love making coffee this way:

  1. The coffee is unfiltered, which means you keep the precious coffee oils, that both taste good and have some cool effects on your health.
  2. The method is very efficient, in terms how many beans it requires.
  3. The coffee can be made without any equipment, which means you can make your coffee on the road, and you won’t have to buy any kind of machine for it.

This is, by my standards, the best way to drink coffee as a minimalist.

I am not poor

…. is what I would like to have several family members and friends understand.

Most of them hear me explain, that I am running a lifestyle experiment, in which I try to observe how heavy time and money respectfully weighs on either side of life’s happiness scale.

You only need to look for a guy like Epicurus, to find out other people in history has asked this question before.

 

I am not poor, I just avoid spending a lot of the money that I earn, because I feel like they are a tremendous tool for feeling secure, once kept, and on the other hand, evaporates all too quickly from my psyche and memory, once spent.
It is not that I wouldn’t enjoy a luxury item like a nice car. I have already owned a luxury car once in my life, and what I noticed, was that the happiness it brought me was extremely temporary, while the worries and anxiety that came with it were very long lasting. Mostly because I couldn’t really afford it.

 

I sometimes wonder why many talk to me like I am poor, even though they are well aware of the fact, that our compared net worths are all in my favor. Talking to me, implicitly, like I am poor, seems to stem from an insecurity they feel in themselves about their own financial choices.

It sure seems like I am able to make them question, whether many of their own decisions were all worth it.

I am not poor, I just think a lot about how to live life optimally, and sometimes you need to live without something, to find out if you will really miss it.

Working More Than Necessary

This post will only be applicable to those who don’t absolutely love their jobs. That should be around half of the readers (1). You may, therefore, skip this one if you are totally satisfied at work.

Not long ago, I quit my first real “adult” job, because I wasn’t happy there.

After having been there for more than 2 and a half year, I was realizing that the hamster wheel wasn’t getting any more enjoyable, and if I was ever going to become as “happy” as my co-workers, I would have to become a lot less happy myself.

For the past year and a half, I had been on this minimalism journey too, where I would carefully evaluate everything I did financially, judging it by how happy it made me.

In which ways did I spend money, that didn’t make my life happier or better?

In which ways did my spending actually create stress and worries?

I still haven’t perfected the optimal lifestyle yet – where every dollar I spend is completely worth it – but I sure have come a long way since the beginning.

By way of this thinking, it suddenly occurred to me, how a big percentage of my monthly paycheck was beginning to end up in my bank account, untouched, because my expenses were radically decreasing. I was putting aside more than half of my salary for many consecutive months, and it dawned on me that I was doing much more work than I needed to, in a job that I did not like at all!

So I decided to quit .

Now, I’ve switched to a part-time position, as a personal trainer, which is actually much more enjoyable than my last job, and I earn just about enough to cover my monthly expenses.

This new job doesn’t come with the same amount of social status and approval from my parents in law, but that is just something I/they will have to get over.

The best part is that I’ve now gotten the time to work on stuff, that I actually love. I have a ton of projects that I would like to start working on, just because I want to, and whatever they end up paying me is pretty irrelevant.

As an example, this blog post is probably going to earn me a very small amount of money over it’s lifetime, with the Google ad I put in it. However, that should be regarded as an added bonus, as I would have written it no matter what the earning potential was.

The main point is, that I am now doing exactly the amount real “work” that I need to. Not more.

This strategy frees up a lot of time to do exactly what I feel like, and I may even think this could be the smartest decision, in terms of earning money, in case one of my passion projects end up a success.

So far I am happy with my decision to not work more than necessary.

The Background Picture On My Phone

Once in awhile, you come across something that inspires you, something you wish you could integrate into your bones. You want it to become part of who you are.

This happened to me recently.

I listened to the Q&A episode of the Time Ferriss Show with Jocko Willink, where Jocko said something that really changed how I think an important topic, and I immediately thought: “I must not forget this message”. I wanted to make it a part of my life.

The question Jocko was answering, was about an artist’s discipline. Jocko is BIG on discipline, and the listener wanted to know, how an artist could apply his principles of discipline at times of low inspiration.

If an artist didn’t “feel like it” on a given day, how could he get up early in the morning and start showcasing his disciplined spirit?

I really perked up my ears when I heard this question, because I usually tell myself, that I am excused for not writing, if I am not particularly “feeling it”.

Well, as usual, Jocko can make you feel like a weakling for carrying such a mind-set.

His response was basically, that you must do your work every goddamn day – regardless of whether you are inspired or not. You need to practice to get better. And if only 1% of what you produce is any good, you are still closer to your end-goal than before.

If you are a painter, you must get up and force the paint onto the canvas.

The sculptor must force the clay together.

And the writer must force the words onto the paper.

It was especially the last part that resonated with me, because I fantasize about becoming a writer one day, and I therefore immediately thought that I must integrate this idea into who I am.

I therefore, wrote a note on my phone that said “force the words onto the paper”,

took a screenshot of it, and made it the background image on my phone.

That way, I am reminded of the idea every day, in a non-intrusive way, and I find it immensely helpful for really remembering something inspirational.

Try it yourself, if you want to live by a quote or something. We all look at our phones a million times a day anyway ?

Max

My Review Of 23andMe (International)

It is the ultimate exercise in ego-tripping, when you order a DNA test kit from the international research company 23andMe.

One sends his spit off in a test tube to the Netherlands, and on the other end, a team of scientists are ready to report back a myriad of facts about the sender and his body, that he doesn’t necessarily already know.

I recently did it myself, and it is a lot of fun and an interesting experience.

To those who don’t know: DNA tests targeted towards the consumer market are on the rise these days, and before long, many people you know will probably begin to mention it, as it is only getting cheaper as time goes by.

With a DNA test, you will be tested for a variety of gene markers, from which you can tell all sorts of information; ranging from whether you have an imminent risk for specific diseases, to for example how your body reacts to a cup of coffee.

Researchers have found a very wide range of gene markers that can be associated with different bodily characteristics. For instance, we know that people who are carrying the allele APO*E4 have an increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease (their risk is 10 to 30 times higher than the rest of the population).

Thereby, it is not certain that APO*E4 carriers will get Alzheimer’s, and vice versa; all non-carries are not completely exempted for all risk – the likelihood for them is just lower.

In a sense, a DNA test looks at whether you “test positive” for a number of genes that we currently know something about.

So there is still limits to what we can determine from a DNA test, but then again, this field is undergoing rapid development at the moment, and knowing your own genome should only get more and more valuable in the coming years.

As you will see below, a DNA test can further tell you where your ancestors come from, which is great just, because I think our current, general perception of nationality could get shaken up, if we all understood that we come from all over the world.

It has been really fun and exciting for me and my wife, getting into DNA testing, and I will now show some of the results that I have found most informative and actionable about myself.

 

WHERE DO I COME FROM?

Since I am a completely pale-skinned, afraid-of-the-sun Dane, it’s easy to come to think of oneself as “100% Danish”. Luckily, a DNA test can quickly alter such a perception:

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Since I am also a natural redhead, I’ve already gotten teased for the fact that I might be 10% Irish, so no need to write further jokes in the comments section: p

 

WILL I GET SICK?

Next aspect of the test – the health part. This is where it actually gets a little nerve-wracking. I imagine, that it is much like waiting for the answer from a venereal disease test – if you test positive, you are screwed! Or more accurately, you could potentially be.

We are thereby presented with a long checklist of 11 genetic risk factors and 43 hereditary diseases, and you just have to hope, that you are coming up negative in as many of these as possible.

Below is an excerpt of my risk factors, where I luckily tested negative in all categories.

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It is worth noting, that one has to double confirm, that he wishes to unlock the access to some of this information, as 23andMe realizes how sensitive it can be!

 

WHAT IF I GET SICK?

Perhaps, the least exciting part of the report is “Drug-response”, which says something about how you would potentially respond to different types of widely used medications.

For me, this was nevertheless useful information, as I found out that I may respond negatively to a common statin (a cholesterol drug), which will hopefully never be relevant.

(The other part concerning PPIs, is just saying that I’m a fast metabolizer of this medicine)

3

 

ALL THE FUN STUFF

This is clearly the best part of the test – the “traits” report. Here, you can see all kinds of information about what your genetic makeup else means.

For example, I learned that I’m a fast caffeine metabolizer, which explains why a cup of coffee has an incredibly strong effect on me, and then again, is out of my system rather quickly.

I learned that I am not predisposed to be overweight, or having a sweet tooth, hence I’ve never had any trouble keeping my weight in check.

Furthermore, I learned that I most likely can tolerate lactose, that a Mediterranean diet (containing high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids) might not be the optimal weight loss strategy for me and that I might had become an accomplished sprinter (had I really trained for it!).

So this is just a selection of some of the things you could learn from my report, and below you will see even more.

One should note that there is a full report behind each line in the list, which further explains and refers to the studies that form the conclusions.

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This was my experience with 23andMe. I hope you could use this to judge whether this might be interesting for yourself.

On Having a Plan B

It is quintessential to western culture, that we admire entrepreneurs and innovators. Luckily, this is the case, as these individuals are the engines that “makes our world go round”.

It is no secret either, that starting a business adventure does come with a great amount of risk. As the Nobel-prize winning scientist Daniel Kahneman once pointed out, if it wasn’t for our inherent tendency to be biased towards optimismour economy would crash, since the chances of failing as an entrepreneur in general, are staggeringly high.

So what? Are all entrepreneurs fools for taking the chance?

Of course not. But very few ever constructs a plan B, in case their plan A ends up failing.

You see, I think because we congratulate risk takers so much in our society, having a plan B is looked down upon to a very great extent.

Having a plan B, is indicative to many, that you are not truly serious about your business idea, or that you don’t really believe in it. This is absurd, considering half of all businesses fails within the first 5 years (1). In my opinion, any reasonable person should, at least, think about how to move on with life, in case his business doesn’t survive.

I think it is ultra important that we get passed this notion, that having a plan B equals a lack of will/belief/motivation, and I’ll explain why.

 

 

Why a plan B is important

For how long can you stick to plan A?

Here is another fallacy, that we often fall prey to; “perseverance is the main driver for success”. We have all heard the story about the gritty entrepreneur who faced a mountain of challenges, stuck to his business plan, persevered and succeeded in the end. Then we conclude that perseverance was the ultimate key to his fortune.

Why is this a cognitive bias? Because OF COURSE you must stick to a plan for some time for it to work, but you will never read any inspirational articles or books about stubborn entrepreneurs who stuck to their plans for way too long and crashed, and so you are only presented with one side of the coin – the bright side.

It surely does require some amount of perseverance to become a successful entrepreneur, but once you’ve got a plan B, you’ll know exactly how much you have to give.

Once you have formulated your optimal plan A, and come up with a suitable plan B, it becomes obvious that you should keep chipping away at plan A, for as long as you want to, as long as you can keep plan B open as a viable option.

Imagine you want to open your own bank (plan A), and have a backup job at your local supermarket set up in case it fails (plan B). That means, you may put yourself into as much debt, and financial risk as you want to, as long as the supermarket job can still sustain you afterward, in case everything fails.

Said in more succinct terms: a plan B allows you to know, how far you are able to go with plan A.

 

More people could become entrepreneurs.

One of the more sad side effects of our aversion to having a plan B, is that it may prevent cautiously inclined people from becoming business owners.

If we trick people into believing, that failure is certain for those who contemplate formulating a backup plan, many will convince themselves that the entrepreneurial world isn’t for them, and they will instead stay put in their more comfortable position.

The takeaway message: congratulate people for having a plan B. Even formulate one yourself to learn about the durability of your plan A.

Book Review: The Magic of Thinking Big

***

Here, we are dealing with a “Self help” book in the most traditional sense.

The Magic of Thinking Big is from 1959 and is about how to be successful in corporate America in the mid-twentieth century. The book is still in print and still going strong, and must therefore be deemed applicable in our modern society, to some extent.

But it still shines through, that the book is relatively old. Several main messages are almost as elementary as “believe in yourself” or “Who dares, wins”.

However, one should still not underestimate the book as a great source for inspiration and motivation. I personally enjoy reading books like this, that are not full of mindblowing facts, but rather a source of uplifting inspiration that makes you push just a bit harder once the day begins. I typically read these kinds of books for 15 minutes during my morning coffee, so I get the day started right (The book Ego Is The Enemy is another good example of such a book).

 

But here is the primary message of the book:

What we think about ourselves and our situation has a direct impact on our odds for success in the future – and what we are specifically thinking, we can select / influence / manipulate on our own.

Thus, the book offers a variety of instructions on how we can increase our thinking and belief in ourselves, using practical techniques, that raises our state and capacity for success.

For example, the author recommends investing in expensive clothes, since we all know, a sharp suit can make anyone feel like they are above average. If we don’t believe we can afford it, we simply must choose to buy half the quantity, twice the quality.

And this is a reoccurring theme in the book. We can choose to change something in our external environment (eg. our clothes), that results in an improved internal environment (more confidence), which ultimately will result in more success in our work, or wherever we wish it.

Similarly, we can choose to smile more, fix our posture and give a firmer handshake, if you want to “trick” ourselves into believing in how successful we really are or are going to be.

An advice that surprised me, was that a faster gait should supposedly induce more confidence! According to the author, a faster walking-style, is a confident person’s way of walking. Thus, one could also affect his internal environment by walking fast – at least, if we all believe in it.

Countless examples of such strategies are to be found in the book. Another strategy I have tried to implement, is to never talk about being “a little under the weather”. According to David Schwartz, nothing good has ever come out of constantly complaining about a fever which might be on its way, but on the contrary, you might actually be able to think or talk yourself into being sick.

I give the book 3 out of 5 stars because it does not provide any cutting edge ideas, but still good as a raw source for inspiration and motivation. Perhaps, the book might be really great for anybody who is struggling with self-esteem problems or the like.

Are you going to get the book?

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Book review: Deep Work

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An easy to read book with an almost too obvious message: to be able to concentrate is good.

But fortunately for the book, the implications goes much deeper than just this simple fact.

According to Cal Newport, we live in an era where the concentrated and focused man is a dying breed – a paradox considering that we are supposedly living in a “knowledge economy”.

On one side of the equation, our ability to do focused work is being impaired by our modern and hyper-connected environment littered with Twitter notifications, FaceTime calls and easy-to-read news on countless websites. On the other hand, people who can work with complex problems in an exponentially accelerating, technological reality, are best suited to keep up with the rapid development – at least if you believe the author.

If nothing else; if the focused human really is a dying breed, he will always be able to call himself unique, if he possesses the skill that many have lost.

 

I now give you my 3 favorite take aways from the book:

  • Remember to take time off. If we buy the premise that we really can be more effective / creative when we practice the “deep-work method”, we must also realize that we need breaks. According to the author, we cannot expect more than 4 hours of quality work from ourselves during any given day, and if we want to do this on several consecutive days, we will have to recharge in between.
  • Try  a “productivity-meditation“. The author suggests that we try to show mindfulness towards the disruptive behavior that we potentially suffer from. Therefore, one can try to observe the inner urge to check Twitter when being in the middle of something important – possibly, closing the eyes, breathe, return to the work, and keep in mind that Twitter will always be available once the deep work session is done.
  • Choose your social media platforms with care. Cal Newport argues beautifully, that we should not join every possible social network, that we can generate a like on. It is simply important that we make a deliberate calculation of the time we may spend on the various tools, and whether they are worth it in the long run. Social media should only be regarded as tools, and therefore only be taken out of the toolbox once they solve a fitting problem. The time you could have gained from not maintaining your Facebook page has to be accounted for, to calculate the opportunity costs.

As I said, the main point of the book is very obvious, yet it has had a tangible impact on how I do my work now, and it, therefore has my recommendation.

Going to buy the book?

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Harvest the power of your unconscious mind

They say that Hemmingway used to stop writing for the day, in mid-sentence, so his creativity would stay active on the current topic until next time he would sit down to write.

We all know about the concept of “sleeping on” a certain issue.

These are just two examples of letting our unconscious mind do a specific type of almost automatic work on a problem. My suggestion is that we remember that our brains have this weird capacity to think about something, while talking a break from it.

In psychology, they talk about a mechanism called the Zeigarnik-effect, which describes how our brains tend to forget about a problem, once we categorize it as done or delt with. This was originally observed in waiters, who were masterfully able to remember unfinished orders, while being almost amnesiacs when it came to the finished ones.

This is, in part, the reason why it works to “sleep on a problem”. We tell ourselves that whatever we are working on, is still an “open order”, and therefore has to stay active in our subconsciousness.

John Cleese, the world famous comedian, said in his brilliant talk on creativity, that creative people usually keeps a subject open for editing until the very deadline, in case something better pops into their heads. The longer a subject is “open”, the longer the window for new ideas will be open.

This is also a key lesson from the book Originals by Adam Grant. By way of procrastinating, an original mind is able to come up with better ideas, because the unconscious mind is working on the problem for a longer time.

We can harvest this effect by being the kind of person who is quick to start, but slow to finish – this gives us the maximum amount of time to work. Open up a subject, and let it stay open. Ideas tend to pop up in the most unexpected circumstances, but it usually requires that we have begun thinking about it first.

//Max