Writing Transformation Challenge 0.0

This is another type of challenge right here. I’m tired of all the notes in my notebook. I’m tired of scrolling through all my endless drafts. Something worthwhile needs time, yes. I got that. But by rewriting an article a hundred of rounds I might lose my original idea and in the end I risk improving for the worse.

Many times I don’t publish only because I think: “That’s not good enough.” “Somebody said this before.” “I can do better.”

Of course I can do better. But when is better good enough? A lot of times I feel like the more I’m trying to improve the more I’m destroying my own writing. I feel like I’m loosing messages that could be worthwhile for somebody.

The other day I went to a writing meetup in Munich. I always like the exchange with other writers. Only now I realize how important it is for my motivation to hear about the broad experience of all these novel authors, script writers, ‘conceptioners’ and comic scribblers.

This time I met Marie from France again and we were talking about a phenomenon: Every so often a book doesn’t get published, because the author changes his or her mind. “I heard this from many publishers.”, Marie contemplated. “You better publish quickly before you can change your mind.”, she encouraged me to silent the judge before it can execute.

The suspicion is close that I’m not brave enough. “I have the feeling you are hiding yourself.”, a couple of weeks ago a friend and potential work partner pointed out to me. And yes, it is true – I am hiding. I’m afraid to publish.

But this blog here is not about me. There are millions of people going through the same things like me – they suffer from anxiety, depression, a broken heart, insecurity, self-doubts, pms, every topic that I address … I have to stop considering my writing as ‘my baby’.

It is my baby in a way, of course. But why am I writing? I’m writing because I want to change perspectives. I change my perspective by reading books, listening to lectures and talking to people. Realistically I’m nothing more than a catalyst of what I read and what I experience in the real life.

These experiences are not unique to me. What is unique is the way everybody processes these experiences. I’m doing it in this way here. Writing is my therapy, creativity is my valve.

I most likely experience real freedom while filling an empty page with my own words. Unfortunately a state of flow is still rather an exception than a rule.

Being a writer is a gift and a curse – however I need to put myself out there in order to fulfill the purpose.

Why do I call it “Writing Transformation Challenge”? I want to develop my own writing style. But by polishing my articles to a point of unrecognizability I kill my style. With this challenge I want to see if pressure makes the diamond…

The goal is to publish a post every day the next 14 days. Day one will be tomorrow.

 

The Urge To Create

“I don’t have this urge to create.” This is how a conversation I’ve had at a New Years party started off and swiftly ended.

After all this product designer and I didn’t have that much in common. “You need some sort of pain in order to create something.” This we both agreed on in our short examination of “What makes a creative person?” Whereas an artist I spoke to the other day disagreed strongly when I asked her about her growing pain during creation: ”Art doesn’t have to hurt. Only because you are creative doesn’t mean you have to suffer.”

I would love to agree with Chandra, but I can’t. This incoherent incomprehensible unrooted urge to express myself doesn’t let me sleep at night. This is suffering. Maybe the ‘creatives’ are just a bit of masochists.

In order to create something there must be some sort of discomfort. Something that pushes us towards the finishing line of a project – is it a job deadline or a personal goal we are aiming for. There needs to be some sort of necessity to create. If it doesn’t hurt at least an unease needs to be eliminated.

‘To create’ something means to build, design, construct or initiate something that hasn’t been there before. Some sort of invisible hole needs to be ‘filled’, a gap closed, a thirst quenched.

You can only create if you are willing to go beyond the existing. ‘A creative’ is brave enough to face the unknown.

Everybody is creative in one way or another. It’s a human trait. Life itself demands a level of creativity: When we are communicating we have to read between the lines, we have to ‘make sense’ of the world around us. We need to be creative when we cook, when we want to date someone, when we want to book holidays, when we post something on instagram. (pahaha!)

Creativity in the sense of ‘doing something with an artistic merit’ is commitment to walk into the unknown. It is ‘not being afraid of the empty page’. It is ‘not stopping to create’ until the creator is satisfied. Creativity is dedication.

It is an inexhaustible force that won’t stop pulling until we are done or something close to done.

For me this doesn’t go without any sort of pain. Sometimes the pain is hard to stand, but there is only one way: to keep creating.

 

3 Ways To Eventually Get Things Done

A few days ago I told you why I get nothing done. Writing this down I realized a recurring pattern: I’m too hard on myself. Tadaa! – Nothing new. However I won’t give up on changing this mindset. I do it by reprogramming my belief system, nurturing self-love on a daily basis, but also by classical change of behaviours. This article touches all of these ‘categories’.

A long time ago I shot off my first threesome about how to tackle procrastination. This is a good sequel.

1. Be realistic

I’m contemplating about writing since I’ve started writing – especially this blog. But only recently I had some major breakthroughs. I started to read a lot more about writing and – most importantly – about the people who write things I want to write.

Most of them don’t have this ‘regular life’ – whatever that is. Also they invested a lot of time in their work. And this made me realize: My goals are just unrealistic and this is why ‘I get nothing done’.

I used to think: “If I don’t publish an article today, I’m not a good writer.” Ironically this belief spirals me deeper into my negative thinking patterns instead of pushing my motivation. And isn’t this what I want to change with this blog?

What’s the point of publishing at all costs if I’m just ‘not ready yet’? If I do an hour of writing a day and afterwards I still think “I did nothing.” Come on, Uli, THIS is self-destructive. I will drop that from now on and instead cultivate healthy writing routines – no matter if I publish or not. This leads me to the next point:

2. Set the stage

Sometimes I’m ‘not in the mood’ to write. I don’t have a desk. I don’t have ‘inspiration’. I have people around, because I sleep in a hostel or or or. These things work as perfect excuses. What I learnt is to just ‘make space’ for my head.

If I don’t have the right setting to get work done and I’m not able to shut off the distraction, sometimes it is enough to just change the location. Either it is just changing the room or going to a café or a library. Other times I might have to improvise – change device or just hide in the forest with my notebook. Where there is a will, there is a way.

3. Take your goals seriously

This is a very personal advice. I notice over and over again how I downgrade my own priorities. For me writing is a really big part of my life. In the past I’ve always tried to ‘fit it in’ into my daily life. And a lot of times it didn’t fit in, because I replaced it with other – what I considered – priorities.

Of course, we have to work and sometimes we have to do things if we want it or not in order to make a living in this world. But if we don’t take our personal goals seriously there is not a chance to reach them.

This applies to any creative activity, but also to a change of diet, exercising, going for more walks, spending time with the kids or whatever. This fits into the category of self-love. Love yourself and do what you love! This should be the highest priority.

In one of my next articles I will explain why self-care is so essential for making the world a better place.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu

 

3 Things That Really Hold You Back From Achieving Your Goals

It is time for another threesome – my way of condensing my learnings and unlearnings. So, this is pretty basic down to the core of ‘getting stuff done’. Enough of the eye-washing! This is the truth about why you don’t achieve your goals (lessons to myself, of course):

1. You’re not following your true goals.

Firstly I need to clarify: When I speak about goals I’m not necessarily speaking about carreer goals. I’m talking about what you do in your life, how you spend your time, what you eat, how you live.

Maybe you are not quite satisfied with your life, but you don’t really know what is wrong? On the surface you might have everything you need, but this is might not be what you really need.

What did you like doing when you were a kid? What filled you with excitement when you were ten years old? You might say “Yeah, but now I’m grown up. I don’t have time to climb trees, to play, to test myself.” I don’t say this is what you are supposed to be doing now, but maybe it gives you a hint. Maybe the huzz and buzz in your life just stopped you from doing what you love?

2. You are not working on your goals.

This is pretty straight forward, but the hardest part of it all. Let’s assume you have an idea of what you want to achieve or do. Now the hard part is to break the big goal down into small steps and actually start making these steps. The funny thing is – as soon as you start walking things will evolve automatically. But finding the balls to get started and not to be outmaneuvered by self-doubt or inadaquate perfectionism – this can be a challenge.

Maybe you still have too many things to do? You need to focus on what you really want to do. This involves dropping some other tasks or what you consider as your responsibility. I just read a good article on saying no. (Have you ever heard about the rule of two thirds?)

3. Your comfortzone is still your sacred ground.

Maybe you already made some steps in the right direction, but you got comfortable in your current position. In order to really achieve the goals you need to expand your comfortzone. You will never improve, if you don’t risk any of your comfort.

It is always good to question your current habits and hobbies in order to move forward. What are you not willing to give up? But what do you might have to give up in order to come closer to your goals? You know it. You just need to open your eyes. Also: Setting the goals higher than you feel comfortable with is a useful tool in order to come closer to your desired way of life. It will force you to get out of your comfortzone.

 

Micro Habit Challenge 4.2 – Mindfulness beats Social Media


Another challenge is coming to an (happy) end. To be fair – it turned out to not be such a big challenge at all as I’m quite involved in ‘real life’ at the moment. I think I have to make the challenges a lot harder from now on.

So what did I learn?

  • I’m actually not as distracted by social media as I thought. Haha, it seems I had a bit of a negative image of myself here. I didn’t really have to change much. All I changed was, as I said – investing the time I spent in social media in other stuff (learning languages, writing, talking to people, reading, going for a walk…) But it turned out: I’m doing these things anyways and flightmode is my best friend.
  • I turned the 30 minutes ON social media into – what I called – “The 30 minutes of mindfulness”. I’m very ill-disciplined when it comes to exercising or meditating regularly. So I decided to leave it open and just set my alarm a little earlier to make sure I have time for any of the above. I either do some chanting, meditating, some yoga or any other type of stretching or workout depending on how I feel – maybe I even go for a walk around the garden or block – depending where I am. It forces me to observe myself before really getting out of bed. “How do I feel today?” is a good question to start on. Also it helps me to set an intention for the day. “How do I want to feel?” – My answer is mainly quite simple: “good.” What does this have to do with social media? Actually nothing. But! I realized repeatedly:
  • Tadaaa: I’m happier WITHOUT checking instagram every couple of hours or minutes. It’s such a relieve for my – anyways – strained brain to not to see all these perfectly curated pictures. And also: Without feeling the need to reply to every message whatsoever…
  • Also: In a way this exercise was a good reminder to keep cultivating self-love. Questioning is my tool and I’m the master of my mind not the the victim of my devices.

Well, what do I do now? I just continue doing the things I do instead of not-doing.

 

Micro Habit Challenge 4.1 – Social Media Substitution

The first week of my challenge is over and probably this is the most successful micro habit challenge so far. Okay – maybe I didn’t challenge myself enough then.

I found out that social media is not my problem anymore, woohoo. My problem are in many ways not the things that I do, but the things that I don’t do. So, instead of ‘being on social media’ for 30 minutes I decided to do something useful instead. I have to address the problem slightly different…

What did I do?

  • Quickly I figured out that my thumb has this stupid automatism. So what I needed to do was to remove the apps (Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) to another screen of my phone. É voila – I haven’t touched instagram since roughly one week. Apparently it is not that urgent.
  • I figured out that instead of saying: I reduce my social media time, I simply have to find a useful substitution. So what I’m doing now is: I invest the 30 minutes in practicing italian right now. I placed all the ‘useful’ apps like my notepad and duolingo on my homescreen now. Facebook I check only every now and then for a few minutes a day.
  • My biggest let’s call it ‘time invest’ is actually sharing my life with my friends on WhatsApp. This also holds me back a little bit from living in the now. So, what I do now before sending a message, I ask myself, do I really need to share this? A lot of times my initial answer is no. Plus: If I want to tell somebody something, I think about the message a little longer and might even write an e-mail. This whole ‘instant-reaction’-thing bothers me since a very long time anyways.

Why am I doing these challenges?

Already by looking at my behaviour I change it. The so called observer effect doesn’t only apply in quantum physics. By surveilling my actions on my phone I change my behavior automatically. This way with a little bit of discipline it is probably possible to achieve everything.

It’s a little bit like quitting smoking. Already the question: ‘Do you really have to smoke now?’ potentially triggers a series of positive alternative actions. ‘Why not go for a walk instead?’ or say ‘hi’ to the stranger at the bus station, where you are standing right now. Life could be so simple, if we’d just live it.

 

Fail Fast, Learn Quick

You are standing on the edge of a cliff. Beneath your feet the blue of the ocean is hypnotizing you. Waves are breaking powerfully on the rocks. “You can do that!” – “Can I do that?” – “You just dive in” -“What if I crash?” – The voices in your head are fighting a running battle. Finally with the heartbeat up to your chin you jump. A rush of adrenaline is taking your breathe before you plunge smoothly into the water.

For a fraction of a second you lose your sense of direction. One moment later you are already back on the surface. A smile arises from your inside while you are swimming with ease back to the boulders you climbed before. “The next time I gonna do a cannonball.”, you think to yourself with a sense of fulfillment.

Jumping down these five meters was just a matter of overcoming your fear of failure. By making a leap you became aware of your true capabilities.

It is by diving into the unknown that we learn. We are learning to swim, we are learning to jump off cliffs (or three meter towers), we are learning to interact with others, we are learning a different language, new skills. At the beginning we are making mistakes: We might land on our belly the first time we jump off the cliff. Or we can’t wrap our head around the verb classifications of a new language. But we are getting there slowly. Our brain gets there, because it creates new connections everytime we supposedly “fail”.

A long time I’d rather do nothing than doing something wrong. What I didn’t understand was that I only learn through my mistakes. More and more in the process of learning to appreciate my own suffering I’m understanding that this “suffering” is just the pain I feel after making a what I consider “wrong” decision. Or it is caused by this fear of making the wrong decision.

At the moment I’m fighting a lot of battles with myself about which way to go, which job to keep, which friends to meet or which new destination to target. Whether if it is on a personal level or on a professional level – these thoughts are stealing my energy and shattering my last nerve.

What I’m practicing is the acceptance of this pain AND the ability to make a decision anyways. Yes, making a decision not the (the only right) decision.

Mistakes are invariable in the process of making anything better (a life or a product). To put it differently – failure is inevitable on the way to success. The inventor of the light bulb Thomas Edison and his team tested around 3000 (!!) different designs for the light bulb before they found a solid solution. It took years.

Without failure also personal growth is not possible. We don’t learn, if we do everything perfect all the time. Because if we do everything perfect we only adjust to the demands, but we never actually seize our full potential.

I’m repeating myself: What had always been holding me back from achieving personal or professional goals was my fear of failure!

Now I’m trying a different approach: I prototype my life. I define, I try, I fail, I improve – “trial and error”.  How ever you want to call it – the idea is the same. A prototype is not perfect. It improves in iterations and so does my life. 

Okay, so far so good. That’s easier said than done. But how are we going to put this in practice?

1. Don’t be Attached To The Image You Have Of Yourself

We don’t realise that we become the slaves of our own thoughts by saying: “This is just how I am.” These thoughts are planted into our head – either by ourselves or by our surrounding. Maybe we are still attached to the idea we had about ourselves when we were twelve years old?

You don’t consider yourself as creative? Maybe you just didn’t find the right way to express yourself or you simply have the wrong idea about “somebody who is creative” in your head? You are not a rational thinker? Only because you spoiled your physics exam in school doesn’t mean you can never be an engineer. The most important thing is to understand, that these thoughts are not us – even if we are the ones telling them to ourselves. What if you have skills you never thought of?

2. Don’t Fall In Love With Your Ideas

There is a rule in the method of design thinking (and other lean/agile working methods) that links to the written above. “Don’t fall in love with your ideas”. We have this overall image about ourselves in our head. On the other hand we also vision the necessary improvements: Things that need to be done in order to become the person we are supposed to be being.

“When I achieve this and this I gonna be happy.” “If I was just a little bit more rational/outgoing/talkative/had more knowledge/more friends my life would be perfect” or “If I just had that much money, I would be able to live a happy life.” Don’t get me wrong – it is good, no it is neccesary to have goals in life, but by focussing on only the things that we already have in mind we might miss the opportunity to find something else that lights up our heart. With this attitude we close ourselves towards our own truth. So, don’t fall in love with your ideas and stay flexible.

3. Be Willing To Change

What teaches me the most in life? Basically the situations where I let go of old patterns. The moments when I try something new. The moments when I have to adapt to a new situation. In these moments I can literally feel how my ability to live life properly (whatever that means, I will think about it) had improved. Exposing myself to adversity, trying new jobs, learning new skills – this is what really teaches me the most.

“Invent yourself new” – is not only a slogan from the fashion industry (?). Sticking with the same hobbies, the same interests, the same people can only lead to stagnation. Our brain literally needs stimulation to build new connections. Once in a while it is important to do something where we once said “I’m not the type for this.” We might fail, we might don’t like it, but if we never try we will never know.

4. Be Open For Advice

The great thing about living amongst other human beings is that we can learn from each other. Everyone of us makes their own experiences and creates their personal reality.

In order to broaden our horizon we need to listen to others. We can’t change our perspective by standing at the same point of view. Sometimes others know better what we are capable of. A lot of times we limit ourselves with the idea about what we can and what we can’t do. If we take our desires and perspectives too seriously we obstruct the outlook for new opportunities.

5. Drop This F*cking Perfectionism

… and cultivate a healthy failure culture. Aiming for perfection leads nowhere. Nothing will ever be perfect or to put it differently: everything is already perfect. With this approach every new start becomes easier. There is nothing to achieve, there is only something to learn. Don’t blame yourself for being a failure only because things don’t turn out how you wish. Accept your mistakes as being a part of the process.

6. Be Willing To Start Again And Again And Again…..

“Nobody said it was easy….” In order to improve anything in our life we need patience. Sometimes I ask myself: “Will I ever learn?” I feel like I’m doing the same mistakes over and over again. But with this question I already hold myself back from learning. Instead I have to acknowledge: “Hmm, again the same mistake. What have I learnt this time?” The lessons we face are always confronting us for a reason. The same mistakes are just reminding us to keep digging. This is the peaceful war with ourselves. 

Conclusion

While we grow older we lose our sense of adventure a little bit. We are trying to predict the future by considering risks, opportunities and values of a decision. A lot of times we are trying to make “the right decision” instead of allowing ourselves to leave things a little bit more open.

What if we admit that we can’t predict the outcome of a decision anyways? Instead we remain in a state of fear. This fear is leaving us in a state of faint. I don’t say we need to fail on purpose, but I say we should allow ourselves more often to jump off the cliff into a deep blue ocean of the unknown.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

 

Micro Habit Challenge 3.2 – Pomodoro Mastery

Alrighty, the second week of my challenge is coming to an end. Honestly, sugarcoating is not my style and not the purpose of this blog. I just have to be honest with you – even if it hurts. Well, what had changed? Not much compared to last week. The meditation challenge faded into mediocrity, but at least I started to collect tomatos. But I won’t pull myself down into the pool of self-pity, instead I’m pointing out my learning – which are reasonably powerful. 😉

What had changed?

  • I refined my individualized pomodoro method: Basically I started to use the traditional pomodore concept in order to tally every task of my day. Every day I collected between three and twelve tomatos. These 25 minute-slots helped me to stay focussed. The timebox proved to be one of my favourite tools of effectiveness since I heard the word “agile” for the very first time. 😉 But the good old pomodoro technique is even better: The concept includes my hobby “procrastination” – a five minute creative break is scheduled after every high-concentrated working-slot. Finally time management became fun for me. Sometimes I extended the slots and sometimes I shortened it a bit, but there was no excuse not to finish a slot without interruption.
  • Again I screwed the meditation challege. This time I meditated only three times before I went to bed (if you include dancing as meditation than five times 😉 BUT: I made “meditation” my energy boost during the day! How? When I reached the afternoon low or a peak of my “priority-confusion” (Wwaahh, I don’t know where to start!! The panic monster is beckoning over…) I decided to get off my desk and go for a walk to the roof top terrace of the office building next door. I climbed the stairs and set the alarm for a ten-minute-open-air-meditation (The weather did it’s bit last week, because it was unusually warm and sunny).
  • As I mentioned last week I wanted to set a weekly goal: My aim – finishing some backend tasks (e.g. photo editing, SEO measures) on my blog uliquitous I accomplished successfully.

Conclusion

At the end of the day I’m still a chaotic person and I have to admit that this kind of stuff requires a lot of discipline of me. But as I can see small steps into the right direction I will stay motivated. Tiny “bites” of focussed work let my to-do list shrink. The next week(s) I will definitely continue with the simple but yet powerful pomodoro method. And meditation? As a support I ordered another book of Osho, which will hopefully provide some guidance on my way towards the silent mind.

 

Ooooommmmmmmmm…..

 

Micro Habit Challenge 3.1 – Finding Routine in Chaos

This challenge didn’t look hard to me in the first place, but somehow it turned out to be demanding. To make it short: I failed – at least in the meditation challenge I couln’t cheat my weaker self. I meditated only on 4/7 nights due to a lack of motivation or tiredness. But to be fair – I mastered the second part of the challenge with flying colours: Finally I managed to find time slots to get something done. And actually this challenge even pushed me to integrate more of these 25 minute slots into my day. So finally there are a bunch of tasks I completed which I postponed since weeks or even months. I understood that I can achieve things, if I just do one step at a time.

What had changed in detail?

  • My downgraded pomodoro method (25 minutes slots) actually helps me to get in the flow. I finally stoped postponing.
  • I learned that it is hard to integrate routines if I don’t have any other routine. The solution: I find flexible times during my day to integrate a small meditation. For example at lunch break or during the afternoon low.
  • Plus: I was more aware of my breathing during everyday activities like driving in the subway, just sitting in the sun, walking or even working. During my day I tried to go for short walk, which helped me a lot to stay energized during the day.
  • Finally: I learnt that meditation is not a practice, it is actually a state of mind. Every action can be meditation.

What do I want to make differently this week?

  • Still keep trying to meditate to finish my day – additionally to every type of relaxation I’m doing during my day.
  • Setting goals for the next day before I go to bed.
  • Setting a weekly goal I want to achieve.
  • Keep growing!

 

Micro Habit Challenge 3.0 – Finding Morning and Evening Routines

The new year is already in full swing. The new years resolutions are not forgotten yet, but the activism is fading with everydays madness. Basically not much had changed: I’m trying to harmonize my work-life-balance, find the time to realize my own ideas, live up to my own beliefs and in the meantime I’m trying to stay calm.

What can I say? My brain is still tickling me with a thousand ideas and focussing on my goals gets hard sometimes. Today is Monday, the calender already shows the end of January. I decided that this month can’t pass without another challenge.

This one is another experiment. On the long run I’m hoping to find the best routine for my meditation practice.

1. I will work on my goals for 25 minutes every morning

Either if it is working on my blogs, writing in my journal, excercising or reading a book. Every morning I want to invest 25 minutes into my personal development. This implies a bit more discipline in the morning – getting up a bit more early and not getting caught in distress already before the day even really started. The idea is to think of what I want to do in the morning, the night before.

2. I will meditate for 10 minutes at night

Basically my only new years resolution is to chill out more, because I’m still stressing myself with my own demands. It’s getting less, but it is still there.

Everybody is talking about there morning routine. But I don’t have one – sometimes I get up at 5.30 because I have a videoshooting, but sometimes I work until seven in the morning at the bar. To be honest with you, I tried to integrate meditation into my morning routine, but it was impossible for me.

Also I found out that sometimes after a working day my brain is full of clutter. This clutter holds me back from calming down at night and I assume from a healthy sleep. So, instead of morning routine I will try to cultivate an evening routine, a really nice procedure to finish my day.

The “Why”

There is something that I learnt from last year: Pressuring myself doesn’t lead to anything besides slowly burning out. So I decided to change my approach a bit and practice more and more to “let go”. Hopefully I’m not over-stretching this phrase in this blog. But “letting go” seems to me more important than anything else in order not to strain my nervous system more than it already is.

So, I go for small steps and I try to do the possible in order to reach the impossible.

I already started with this challenge this morning. And this blog post is the result of investing roughly half an hour into my personal goals. Crazy, isn’t it?