Let go of your most toxic habit

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Whether it’s money, possessions, body type, career, status, fame or fortune, most of us find ourselves doing it almost everyday – comparing ourselves to others.

We see someone else with more or better X, or Y than us, and we feel less of a person because compared to them, we don’t stack up.

It’s something that we don’t usually think of as a ‘toxic habit’, but it fits all the definitions. It’s something that you do continuously, usually without thinking, and is bad for you.

Why? Because while we’re busy looking at how much better someone else has done, we’re not seeing our own accomplishments. We forget to be content with what we already have. It’s one of the most poisonous things you can do to yourself.

Living a minimalist lifestyle isn’t just about decluttering your house, or how to roll your clothes up efficiently so that you can backpack around the world, it’s about so much more than that.

It’s a way of living a life where you are happy with what you have. A big part of this minimalist philosophy is to try to not compare yourself to other people’s measure of success, and find a way to live that means you are happy.

I emphasise try because nobody is perfect. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves, and sometimes comparing ourselves to people who we admire might help us become better people.

Seeing good traits in others and aspiring to be more like them, such as being more honest, or more adventurous, or having a healthier lifestyle is fine. It’s comparing material possessions that is the most toxic, because this is the universal truth:

There will always be someone with more than you.

Even the richest person on Earth lacks something you have. Always reaching out for more stuff that is ultimately meaningless will only lead to constant dissatisfaction. You will never have enough. So stop comparing your life to other people’s, and start living your own.

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The biggest mistake people make when making their life goals, and how to fix it

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One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is to confuse emotions with goals.

They make lofty aims like, ‘I want to be happy,’ or ‘I want to be successful,’ without knowing that these aren’t really goals at all.

What we’re talking about here are emotions, or states. These can change all the time. You could be feeling happy one day, and miserable the next, it’s only natural that our moods are constantly changing.

So aiming to achieve an emotional state, and stay like that for the rest of your life, is only going to lead to frustration.

Emotions are only an indication of whether or not you’re going in the right direction towards where you want to be. In other words, they can only show you whether or not you’re doing the right thing, right now.

the key to happiness is redefining it

For example, if you want to ‘be happy’, and you find that you’re happiest spending time with your friends and family, then your happy state is telling you that that’s what you need to be doing. So you should aim to spend more time with the people you love.

If what makes you feel successful is doing something you enjoy and you’re good at, then if you hate your job, you’ve got to aim to find something else.

If freedom, or independence, or travelling, makes you happy, then you need to let go of the commitments and stuff that’s holding you back so that you can do it.

If you’re feeling unhappy or unsuccessful because you’re stressed out about money, all the work you have to do, or the drama that people around you bring into your life, then now you know where to begin to change that. Sorting these out would be your ‘goals’ for now.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that you want to happy in life. However, until you realise that happiness itself is just an emotion that comes from the result of your actions, you’re not going to get any closer to it.

You have to define what ‘happiness’ means to you by breaking it down to actual actions that you can accomplish right now. Those actions are your goals, for now.

In summary, here are some action steps you can take today:

1. Think specifically about which emotions, or states, you would like to feel about what. For example, “I want to feel ____ about ____. For example, “I want to feel happy about my job.”

2. Find out what makes you feel that way. For example, ”I feel happy about my job when I enjoy the hours I spend working.”

3. Do those things, or avoid the things that make you feel the opposite. For example, “I love working with people, so I should move to a more client facing role” or, “I hate working in an office, I’m going to find a job that’s more hands on.”

4. Keep going. Keep finding new things that make you feel better about that particular area of your life. For example, “Being really good at my job makes me feel successful. I’ll keep working on getting better at it,” and so on.

5. Move onto improving other areas of your life. Once you’ve picked an area to improve, keep it up. Them try the technique in another area, such as improving your relationships, finding a fulfilling hobby, or improving your health. The possibilities are endless.

 

It sounds so simple, but most people only get to the first step and then wonder why they’re not happy yet. What can you do to redefine your goals?

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Digital House Burning – A Lesson in Letting Go

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Have you ever lost a hard drive?

It’s the digital equivalent of your house burning down. Suddenly, you lose your past work, files, documents, and most painfully, your photos. Gone. Forever.

This happened to me one year ago today. Granted, I still had some of the most important things saved elsewhere, but for the most part, I lost the better part of six years or so of documents.

At the time, losing so much data felt like losing a part of my life. Things that I created during that time, the hours that I put in to writing, editing, saving everything so that I could look back on it again one day, gone.

A year later, how do I feel?

In a word, content.

That’s right. I feel fine. The minimalist part of me should have known I would be. I don’t miss anything and my life hasn’t collapsed because of it.

The things that I thought were so important a year ago don’t matter to me as much now. And I imagine a year from now, they’ll matter to me even less.

I’m a strong believer that things happen for a reason (or at least, one should try to find lessons in the things that happen to them) and losing my stuff was no different.

To me, this was a lesson in letting go.

We live in an age now where we can save everything in our lives. We can snap moments that were supposed to last a second, and keep them forever. Although this is good in some ways, it can also be negative in others. We can recall feeling angry, irritated, or sad at someone or something, and this time actually remember why.

My digital house burning was a cleansing, of sorts. It allowed me to start afresh. Knowing that the things we capture are only a snapshot of each moment, I was able to enjoy each moment better.

Instead of worrying about taking photos wherever I travelled, I stopped to talk to people, and appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells of the places I went.

Cleansed from the baggage of my past, I was able to  focus better on creating new work. I had grown and improved in so many ways in the last six years, and holding onto old things wasn’t going to help me progress forward.

Yes, it’s difficult to go through a digital house burning. I’m not saying that people should start setting their hard drives on fire (I now keep a second hard drive and also back up into in the cloud) or stop taking photographs. In fact, I am a big advocate of keeping diaries for reflection. But what I am saying is this. Even if certain stuff feels important to us now, ultimately it’s just a thing. If we lose it, we all have the strength inside us to get over it.

One day, the things that feel so precious to us now will be gone. Until then, let us cultivate a mindset that focusses more on things that we do have, rather than on the things that we’ve lost.

Learn to let go, and in the end, you’ll be okay.

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The most important thing you need to know about completing your bucket list

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by Jessica Dang

Last year, I made a bucket list of some of the things I wanted to do in my life before I die. Usually, when I have an important goal to achieve, I would break down the goal – what do I have to accomplish by when? What do I have to do first in order to do second? Complex goals usually require complex planning.

However, I intentionally left my bucket list vague. Indeed, some of them are just one word long. Why? Because contrary to what it sounds like, the things on my bucket list are not goals. 

what a bucket list really is

My bucket list tells the story of an adventure – my adventure. A good story isn’t about the destination, but the journey there. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s what you learn, and how you grow on the way that matters.

Travel is about discovering yourself. The phrase ‘finding yourself’ usually conjures up the image of a mountaintop or some other glamorous destination. However, you won’t find out who you are by wading through the Amazon or meditating in a Zen temple. Everything you need to discover about yourself is already within you.

Knowing this is liberating. It means that you can find meaning in your own backyard. You don’t have to get on a plane – just going for a walk around the block, or taking a train to the next town, can be an adventure in itself. You can learn a lot just by being more mindful of the surroundings you’re in right now, and taking a moment to be grateful for what you already have.

However, if it’s possible for you, visiting other countries can also be worth your while. Going outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s in the same country, or within another culture, can open mind, and widen your perspective on the different ways of thinking by different people. It can challenge your beliefs – which is a good thing – and make you stronger as a person.

Wherever you choose to go, remember that there is a difference between travelling for the sake of travelling and going somewhere to enjoy the journey itself. In other words, are you just trying to get to ‘X’, or do you care about the road there? When people create bucket lists, are they really only thinking about reaching a destination? Or are they thinking about the journey too?

The real question is, which one are you thinking about?

real travel is about the journey, not the destination

by Jessica Dang

The Buddha’s story isn’t about reaching the goal of enlightenment itself, but about his pursuit of the rightful path

The concept is easier to understand when you look at the other things I have on my list. For example, ‘learn Japanese’ is so vague – how can one possibly know when they’ve ‘learned’ a language? The answer is that you can’t. I’m now living and working in Japan, and I could say that I’m fluent in Japanese, but I still haven’t crossed it off the list. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a place where I can say I’ve ‘completed’ this item, but that was never my intention. It was the process of learning that has given me so much. Because I’ve taken the time to learn a new language, a whole new world had opened up for me. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t made the effort.

In the same way, I didn’t run a marathon for the medal. After all, it’s just a piece of metal. A medal and a free T-shirt is merely a representation of my hard work. It was all of those hours I spent running that mattered. By training for it, my body became healthier, I learned to eat better, and I built my mental and physical endurance. The actual marathon itself didn’t matter nearly as much as the sweat and tears I had shed in all the runs I did before it. The strength I gained didn’t just happen to me suddenly when I crossed the finish line, I collected it slowly, step by step, along the journey that I had already made.

So yes, you and I may never complete our bucket lists, but that’s okay. This is not an excuse. It’s not supposed to merely be a list of stuff to be ticked off one by one – it can be so much more than that.

Your bucket list should tell your story. How it goes is up to you. 

 

Making Miracles

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When life gives you lemons, make grape juice, and let the world marvel at how you did it.

What a great twist to an old saying. Sometimes, you don’t get everything that you want, or even everything that you need. If only you had a bit more time, more money, more resources.

Life can be full of challenges, mistakes and failures. It would be great if life worked out the way we wanted it to, but things aren’t always going to go according to plan. Sometimes, you’re going to be dealt a bad hand, and it’s up to you how you want to play it.

That’s the great thing about life. Even though it can be hard, it’s also full of opportunities and any number of wonderful things. As long as you learn from your past, keep your chin up, and face whatever life throws at you head on, you’ll be okay in the end.

Sometimes, life only gives you lemons. You may have wanted oranges, or apples, or anything else but lemons, but you didn’t get what you wanted. Well, now’s your chance. Go on, make some magic happen, and let them marvel.

My Tokyo Minimalist Bedroom and Workspace

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The last time I wrote about my minimalist bedroom, I was living in Kobe with a host family. My room was simple – just a futon, a chair and a desk. There was also a piano in the room that belonged to my host sisters, which I would use from time to time.

It turned out that it was all I needed. I learned a valuable lesson that year – that the less stuff I had to hold me back, the more I was free to do what I liked, and enjoy my time in Japan.

Since then, I have lived in a couple of different rooms and apartments. Amongst them, in the UK, I lived in a beautiful apartment with a wonderful view of Leeds, then in a small flat in London, and then, after a short time back at home, I moved back to Japan.

In Kochi prefecture, I was lucky enough to live in a countryside house with three tatami rooms. I would love to share photos of all of these places one day, but since people have been asking, here is where I’m living right now.

my minimalist bedroom (tokyo edition)

When it was time to move to Tokyo, I spent a long time trying to find a place to live. It was difficult to find an apartment that I liked the look and feel of, but after many, many hours of searching, I settled on an apartment near the centre of the city, pictured here.

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The bedroom isn’t large, but it is comfortable. I liked the clean white walls and the simple flooring. The big window lets in a lot of natural light, and the large shiny desk felt like it was inviting me to sit down and write.

Notice that I don’t have a wardrobe. Initially, it wasn’t out of choice, but now I’ve realised that I don’t even need one. I own very few clothes anyway, so I just hang a few work shirts and my black suit jacket on the rack, and fold the rest of my clothes on the shelf.

I shifted the desk slightly after taking these photos so that I would have space to roll out my yoga mat. I don’t own much else except for a few books, which I put on the shelf, and my trusty laptop, which sits on my desk.

my minimalist workspace

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I prefer to keep the top of my desk as clear as possible. My laptop has a permanent position in the middle (unless I’m studying from a textbook), and I usually allow just a few notes, and a cup of coffee, of course.

I find that having too many bits of paper, knick-knacks, and even my phone on the desk distracts me from my work. (I’ve since moved the lamp pictured above to my bedside instead.) Perhaps I’m easily distracted, but this has always been my style.

The kitchen and bathroom is just as you would expect in a big city. Small, yet functional, it has everything I need, and nothing more.

from minimalism to freedom

I’ve talked before about how minimalism, far from restricting you, actually can grant you more freedom. Not having suitcases of stuff to drag around with me every time I move means that:

I can move all of my possessions in one trip. I can take all of my necessities without breaking my back while dragging things across train stations and airports.

I can live relatively small spaces. In a city as expensive as Tokyo, that makes a big difference.

I can live more comfortably. It’s easier to maintain a place that isn’t overflowing with stuff. I spend very little time cleaning – just brushing the floor and wiping down surfaces every couple of days. This gives me plenty of time to do the things that I want to do, from reading in bed to exploring the city.

I don’t earn much money, and I don’t have a lot of free time, but not having to worry about all of the above is especially beneficial for a nomad like me. It’s time like these that I’m really grateful that I found the minimalist way.

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Do you have any thoughts or photos you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you in the comments! Or, join Minimal Student’s new Facebook page for immediate updates on future posts, minimalist inspiration, throwback Thursdays, quotes, photos and more.

 

 

The True Meaning of ‘Success’

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What do the most successful men and women in history all have in common?

Not all of them were smart, or good looking, or had either poor or wealthy backgrounds. They weren’t all gifted from birth, or went to college, or happened to be in the right time and place. They were from all walks of life, and were completely different except for one thing.

They changed the world.

Isn’t that the true meaning of ‘success’? To be remembered for doing something remarkable. It’s not about making money, being famous or inventing something. It’s about changing the world, even if just a little bit. Even if it’s just for a few people. And preferably for the better.

It all begins with a vision of the future, of a better place. And then with a little bit of persistence, fearlessness, and yes, even a dash vulnerability, they made it. Of course, it takes a lot of courage. It’s not an easy road to take, being a world-changer.

Children have an amazing ability to see things through rose-tinted glasses. This isn’t a bad thing. They think they can change the world, and they probably could have, except as they grow up, they slowly become sceptical about their chances. Most people call this ‘coming to terms with reality’ but the truth is, as adults we make lot of excuses for not even trying.

If only we could all leave the world a better place than before we entered it. If only we were all brave enough to keep on our rose-tinted glasses for just a little longer.

 

Positive mindfulness – how to be grateful for the good things in life

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Kochi Castle Candle Festival - Jessica Dang

2013 was undeniably my best year so far. In the last twelve months, I have lived in three different cities, ran a marathon, graduated, moved to Japan, and got my dream job. 13 really is my lucky number.

If only I had more to remember it by…

Well, I’m not going to make the same mistake next year. My new year’s resolution will be short and sweet – to be grateful for the good things in life.

It’s easy to let one bad thing ruin a good day. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the good things we have to realise how lucky we are. I like to call it ‘positive mindfulness’.

There are so many things that can brighten up our day. A smile from a stranger, trying something new, seeing old friends, a challenging task, giving to others, a fulfilling job, a partner’s affection, overcoming an obstacle, finishing something, family gatherings, learning a new skill, a good workout, a genuine hug… the list goes on.

Almost everything that makes us truly happy in life doesn’t cost a thing. We just have to be mindful of them. Here are some ideas…

Three practical ways to stay positively mindful next year

1. Keep a ‘Gratitude Box’

Find a shoebox or something similar and place a notepad beside it. Every time something good happens to you, or if you feel particularly grateful for something, write a note about it, along with the date, and pop it in the box. Try to write one thing a day, or at least a couple a week.

At the end of next year, hopefully you’ll have a box stuffed full of notes… and hopefully reading back on them will make you smile/cry/laugh.

2. Make an ‘Amazing Day Collage’

Make a colourful collage or simply write a few post-it notes of all of the the things you can think of that would make your day. Stick them somewhere that you’ll see every morning. The notes will remind you of what to keep an eye out for throughout your day.

You’re more likely to notice the good things if you’ve been reminded to look out for them. Add more as you notice new things that make you smile.

3. One second of every day of 2014

This is such a simple idea. It’s a video showing just one second of everyday in a man’s life. Just as he saw it, just as it happened.

It inspires me to do the same. Some might think that recording their lives is an invasion of privacy, but personally, I have such a weak memory that I would be more grateful, rather than paranoid, if I could recall all of the lovely memories I made this year. Also, I don’t have to share it publicly, and I don’t get up to that much mischief anyway!

At the same time, some moments are made to be enjoyed, not photographed. In any case, whether or not I decide to record the moment, the most important thing is that I’m having fun.

Do you have any suggestions to stay positively mindful next year? Let me know in the comments.

Happy New Year folks!

One Important Question for Life

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What happens if you follow your instincts?

Despite my best intentions to take a year off to relax, I somehow landed myself a job… at the British Embassy in Tokyo.

It seems I have found the reason why I was drawn back to Japan. My instincts were right – this is where I’m supposed to be.

I will be continuing my work from Whitehall, working to increase international cooperation on climate change. I will also be helping the UK and Japan collaborate on essential research such as neuroscience, medicine, stem sell research and aerospace, amongst others.

Advanced technology is one of our finest achievements. By working together, we can learn to use it well, so that we can save the Earth, our loved ones… and save ourselves. As I write, Egypt, of all places, is going through a ‘historic’ snow storm. To me, that’s a sign. We need to act now. Although my part in it all may be small, small changes have the tendency to turn into a big difference.

Where I will go from there? I have no idea. If this year has shown me anything, it’s that I can’t even predict three months into the future. All you can do is try to make the best decision you can at each crossroads, and hope it works out.

It has taken me time to learn this, but now I know how true it is – the best thing about life is that it’s unpredictable. 

 

The Sweetest Reward

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They say that it’s best to aim for the low hanging fruit. A lot of the time this is true, but it isn’t always the case.

In the short term, it might make sense to take advantage of whatever comes your way first. The low hanging fruit are easy to reach, but they aren’t necessarily the best fruit on the tree.

In the long term, only doing what is easy won’t get you very far. If you only go for low hanging fruit, you’ll never taste the sweetness of overcoming a difficult challenge, and achieving something worthwhile.

Learning to climb a tree takes patience and perseverance, but if you take things step by step, you can reach the top.

It helps if you’re not weighed down by stuff. Carry too much, and your burden will hinder your progress. Let go of the things that don’t matter, and focus on the things that do.

You only get one chance at life, so why not aim high? The sweetest fruit grow at the top.

 

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